Looking for that wine store idea that sets you apart from your competitors?
The best way is to ask your customers. Another way is to gather customer insights into your business through social media research.
In the movie Avatar Sigourney Weaver is an anthropologist who was studying another community by becoming immersed in it. This post is about something similar – immersing yourself in internet communities.
The difference is we don’t use Na’vi-human hybrid bodies to interact with the natives of Pandora, rather we use the internet to get involved with other humans in their own internet environment. A little easier I think.
First some background on why I think research is important
I’m a hopelessly biased marketing professional 🙄 .
I honestly believe that the world revolves around understanding what consumers want better than anyone else and then giving it to them in a profitable manner. My counterparts in operations would say it is all about making things as cheap as possible as you can’t influence price, customer service people say it is all about service, sales people say it is all about price (and service), HR says the better your staff the better your product, and finance people say it is all about margin times volume.
Of course we are all right and a good business owner makes sure he covers each area well enough to achieve his business objectives.
However this blog is all about marketing. And marketing starts at the customer.
In order to influence how the customer acts on the internet you have to use all sorts of tools to do with search engines, social media, eCommerce conversion, internet advertising, testing and tracking as well as copy writing.
In order to understand the best way to do this you need to know how the customer thinks, and this is where research comes in.
They all think differently
Ideally you would be able to know each of your customers in the same way an old green grocer use to know each of his customers back in the 50s. Mrs Brown is busy and likes convenience food, Mrs Smith pretends she likes fresh produce but really wants any excuse to buy chocolate, Mrs Lee has just had a baby so …
As a local wine retailer you do have the advantage of having personal relationships with your customers. But it’s hard to do that for large groups of faceless consumers like those on the internet, and those who we never see and go to our competitors. We don’t meet them in-store so we cannot build a personal relationship with them as easily.
To get round this issue what marketers do is build profiles of typical customers – then “talk” to a particular profile. Through research we know that there are groups of people who are similar to Mrs Brown, Mrs Smith and Mrs Lee so we communicate to each group differently – chocolate to Mrs Smith, canned food to Mrs Brown, nappies to Mrs Lee. Or we know Mrs Lee wants to lose weight post birth so we communicate healthy weight loss messages to her.
It’s called segmentation and Constellation Wines have done this well with their Project Genome.
I’ve commissioned lots of professional research over the last 20 years as well as doing a fair amount of research myself over the last five years.
Frankly I often used it as an independent arbiter between the operations of a business and the customers of the business. Operations are usually sure they know exactly what customers want … and customers often want something completely different.
So rather than fight it out with subjective opinions you get a third party to actually ask customers (competitors’ as well as your own) what they really want. Then use that to make the business more customer oriented – no fights, just discussing the facts and agreeing on what should be done next.
The usual practice is to ask a research practitioner to build an overview of the market through focus groups and one on one in-depth interviews. This fleshes out the issues and is often enough to get the business focused on what the customer wants rather than what it thinks the customer wants (amazing how often that is different!).
Sometimes you go to the next step and commission expensive surveys. This use to be by telephone or mail but increasingly is by web surveys. This gets very expensive as you need a representative sample of the customer population that can be the millions large.
As I moved into working with small businesses I started to do much of this myself – mainly my own one on one interviews, but even then the recruitment effort, travel expenses and time involved was significant. Finding large enough groups of people to contact to do surveys was very problematic.
So it was with a great deal of interest that I started to see the new method of research starting to make an appearance, it’s called netnography. It uses the burgeoning area of social networks to monitor and engage with consumers.
Not only are there lots of consumers in one place but they are less inhibited to say what they really think. So like the star of Avatar, ex-marine Jake Sully, you get to learn their “warrior dreamwalker ways“, er … I mean what they really think about, and how they use, the brands you are researching. They are in their natural environment (in this case in front their PC at home, not Pandora), and like Jake you are immersed in this environment.
Note unlike Avatar you are not trying to destroy their village! You are the respectful Sigourney Weaver not the evil Colonel. There are ethical research principles you abide by.
A few academics started to cotton on to internet based ethnography in the nineties. One of these was a guy called Dr Robert Koiznets.
Usually what a researcher like Robert use to do is immerse himself in a target community like a Sigourney Weaver. In the case of business research it might be a middle class family to see how they use coffee throughout the day or, in the case of academic anthropology it may be a tribe in Africa. It’s called enthonography and is a very accepted market research method.
From the jungle to the social media sphere
But Western communities started to move online in the nineties with email, forums, user groups, and of course by 2010 social media has become a huge area of our life with Facebook, blogs, twitter etc etc.
So some researchers have moved online with the various communities. In this blog I outline communities in Facebook, Twitter, Snooth, Wine-Searcher, and Blogs. All vibrant communities that each have insights into the world of wine.
What Robert and his colleagues have done is to bring the rigorousness of professional research to the internet. So rather than simply summarize what is being said (like I have), researchers study, query and analyse what these communities are saying (remember there are ethical policies in place, it ain’t sneaky).
A tribe of 100 vs tribes of 1 billion
However the issue is that there are billions of web pages and a human is unable to find, analyse and notate all relevant conversations easily. Sure you can use Google blogsearch, obvious forums and twitter search but you still have to sift through screeds of discussion threads to find the customer insight nuggets.
Software that helps
This is where NetBase has come in with a tool that finds and automatically analyzes conversations about a brand or topic. It doesn’t do everything but it is certainly a help.
Here is how Robert Kozinets puts it in a NetBase whitepaper he wrote (paraphrased).
Netnography follows six overlapping steps:
- Research planning – organized netnographer will need a research question, or set of questions, to direct his investigation
- Entrée – use a focused research question to hone in, reach out, find, enter, and investigate the different online fields where a culture or community expresses and gathers.
- Data collection – How, when, and where to collect data about the culture and community.
- Interpretation – apply consistent, interactively-adjusted, insightful analysis and interpretation to the data.
- Ensuring ethical standards – apply strict ethical research standards and procedures.
- Research representation – evaluate and present the end-product of the research.
NetBase (and other software) helps out at the Data collection and Interpretation stages.
Netnography requires the researcher to investigate a huge range and volume of social data. Software tools assist with the following tasks:
- Sourcing: allows the netnographer to scan the online environment for relevant and interaction-oriented mentions of brands, categories, product usage situations, and markets. Good tools will allow for a breadth and variety of sites. The more the better.
- Tracking: provides some context to the data so that relevance and cultural insight can be judged. They will also provide source information (preferably hyperlinked), so that the data can be usefully traced to its source
- Marking: allows the researcher to write and save their own notes and observations on top of the data set
- Collecting: facilitates the archiving and collection of sets of data in ways that organize it without losing the subtlety of its cultural condition
- Reducing: at some point, large amounts of the data need to be reduced into order to build them into coherent insights. Strong tools will be flexible, subtle, and adaptable
- Visualizing: using different types of analysis, unexpected insights can occur when data is presented in a new visual ways
- Pervading: with easy, user-friendly interfaces, computation tools can allow the researcher to be on top of the dynamic, ever-unfolding, naturally-occurring situation that is online interaction. Real-time consumer insights inform better and better strategic decisions.
Netnography offers a range of new insights for front end innovation, providing:
- Holistic marketplace descriptions
- Communicative and cultural comprehension
- Embedded understanding of consumer choice
- Naturalistic views of brand meaning
- Discovery of consumer innovation
- Mappings of sociocultural online space
Netnography is your secret weapon for deep strategic insights, for fresh ideas for innovation, and for new approaches to brand, campaign and community management.
WIIFM, what’s in it for me, or rather, what’s in it for you?
I’m mulling over doing a netnography project that will look to find insights that wine retailers can use to sell more wine online.
The outcome would be insights you could use to create social media marketing campaigns aimed at specific groups of people i.e. segments. In particular I’m interested in customers who buy a lot of high margin wine, the heart of a small wine businesses profitability.
However this is a big undertaking, so I’d like to get a gauge of how interested readers are. If you are interested then please let me know – by email or in the comments below. If I get enough positive response then I’ll begin.