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6 Killer Insights From Digital and Social Data


By Joel Rubinson

Marketers need to understand this fundamental truth…in a digital, social, mobile age, consumers can choose brand messages as much as the brand messages choose them.

Consumers are always on, always connected and this has fundamentally changed how we shop…we browse incessantly, on whatever screen we have handy. Progressive marketers know their brands need to be ‘always-on’ as well to generate earned (social media) or owned (e.g. website visits) media impressions that will benefit the brand.

And these owned and earned impressions can be quite significant.  About two years ago, the head of the CPG practice for Google told me that Google tracks 8 BILLION food related searches in a typical month. Fiona Blades, President of MESH, The Experience Agency, that tracks all experiences a consumer has with a brand via mobile, offers, “In some categories we monitor, Digital Owned and Earned experiences can account for as much as 60% of total reported experiences.”.

But perhaps the most important insight about an owned/earned impression is this.

While a paid impression tells us that the MARKETER thinks the user is interesting to the brand…an owned or earned impression tell us that the CONSUMER thinks the brand is interesting to THEM.

This simple ‘aha’ is the reason that digital and social data offer unique insights in 6 ways:

  1. BRAND HEALTH MONITORING: In the aggregate, they give a naturally occurring barometer of how relevant the brand is to consumers, and in the case of social media, they tell us why the brand is relevant
  2. ALWAYS ON MARKETING REPORT CARD: They reflect how good the marketer is at always on marketing
  3. CAUSAL SALES MODELING: It suggests that an owned or earned impression has more impact than a paid impression at driving sales, which is consistent with recent evidence from WOMMA industry study. But let’s include these data into our models and let’s find out…
  4. REAL TIME CAMPAIGN ASSESSMENT: They reflect the degree to which a marketing campaign is having impact on consumer behaviors in time to adjust spending plans
  5. CREATIVE IDEA AND CONTENT TESTING: every Facebook post, Tweet, content article, pageview, click, etc. represent a naturally occurring experiment about which ideas are most interesting to consumers because they are viewed more and shared more. Use this to optimize your content, creative strategies, and website/app experience.
  6. DATA DRIVEN MARKETING PREDICTIVE ANALYSIS: They produce a cookie or other marker that tells us that a particular user is interested in our brand for a certain reason which has programmatic advertising and personalization value

If we think of these as research programs, “always on marketing report card”, “real time campaign assessment” and “data driven marketing action” are “new/new” programs for most. The others offer improvements to current approaches by integrating digital and social data with survey results.

Jeff Reynolds, President of Lieberman Research Worldwide who offers a next generation tracking system called BX (disclosure: I consult with them), speaking at the IIeX conference in Amsterdam, gave killer advice to researchers on their path forward: “Think in data systems, not research studies”.

As an example, imagine how a data system strategy, melding together digital and survey data might work for brand health tracking. Brand health is not equivalent to brand equity; it’s about CHANGES in the baseline. There are baselines in your survey tracking, but there are also baselines to how much people search for your brand, visit its website, talk about it in social media, etc.  So we monitor all the health signs, just like a doctor might look at 20 measures in your blood test. Imagine an integrated data system for a retailer revealing that the lines are crossing for website visits vs. a competitor. Further, we notice the same thing for social media conversation. We notice opposite trends in the attribute rating from our surveys, for both retailers on “offers fair prices”.  We notice that one retailer’s positive sentiment on price related comments spiked up one week while the other retailer took a nosedive.

Which retailer would you rather be?

If you are not indifferent (and you shouldn’t be) you now see how digital and social data, acting as parts of a data system, can offer so much more than surveys alone. By the way, I chose a retailer for this hypothetical example because it is obvious how these digital metrics are directly related to sales over the subsequent weeks. Also, because you are sourcing insights from digital and social data, prescriptive action plans are more obvious from the data because when you drive up your digital and social metrics of brand health, you are actually directly driving sales at the same time.

I have spoken at a number of conferences (IIeX, Australia AMSRS, Toronto MRIA, CASRO digital conference in Nashville) delivering the message that the number one priority for marketing  research is is to find a strategy for integrating survey and digital data into your information strategy.  However, I never thought to present the argument this way…that an owned or earned impression is by its nature a reflection of the relevance of a brand and therefore inherently has important information value.

So hopefully, I’ve won you over and if you are ready to start designing your data system solution for one or more of these programs, please share; I’d love to hear about it.

Please share...

7 responses to “6 Killer Insights From Digital and Social Data

  1. “Marketers need to understand this fundamental truth…in a digital, social, mobile age, consumers can choose brand messages as much as the brand messages choose them.”

    I think I spot a fundamental flaw in this “fundamental truth”. For starters, most people aren’t interested in engaging with brands, especially not on social networks and media.

  2. Dear Martyn. thank you for your comment but I am perplexed. In what way do you get from “consumers choose brand messages…” to “most people aren’t interested in engaging with brands…”
    I actually was primarily referring to the fact that we seek out messages with informational value as we shop. That is not brand engagement but it is certainly consumers choosing brand messages, or what is often called “pull” messaging.
    BTW, your statement that most people aren’t interested in engaging with brands in social media is also factually incorrect in all probability. The top 10 brands alone have about 500 million likes on Facebook. Hard to see how you get to that big of a number unless many if not most are liking at least some brand they care about.
    Hopefully this clarifies.

  3. Hi Joel, I’m not an expert on the advertisingbusiness, so I tend to be influenced by adland people such as Dave Trott and Bob Hoffman. I suppose what they mean by enagement with brands is more than clicking on ‘like’, but I might be wrong.

  4. Joel,

    Interesting article. I like your quote:

    While a paid impression tells us that the MARKETER thinks the user is interesting to the brand…an owned or earned impression tell us that the CONSUMER thinks the brand is interesting to THEM.

    I hope you don’t mind if I use it. (with attribution, of course:))

    Thanks for sharing

  5. Joel, I totally agree with you when you say “consumers can choose brand messages as much as the brand messages choose them”. Recent studies ( have shown that Consumers are ‘Blind’ To Branded Content on Social Media. On the other hand, the opportunity to engage consumers via digital platforms, specially via mobile devices, is huge. For example, we just completed a survey with smartphone users in Brazil and one of the interesting findings is that 64% are willing to receive messages from brands in their WhatsApp, once the content is relevant for them.

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