4th of July Reading: Research Helps Segment Social Media Users for Advertisers

Amid all the hype about social media, I’ve been looking for some decent research so we can begin to segment the social media users – and finally get some actionable reality put into the equation. Two interesting sources that may help have recently come to my attention.

Note that my thinking builds on a couple of my prior blog posts. So you might want to read

Most Consumers Don’t Want to Be Your Friend
or Five Reasons Consumers Will Be Your Friend

The first new source is a study from Pew as summarized in this Media Post article. (Click here for article.)

I can’t validate their research method entirely. Some of the questions seem to pursue obscure truths that consumers can’t articulate. But fundamentally, what they found seems to hold together. And what it shows is that there’s a very small portion of the population that’s very active on social media.

Of the total population, only 59% are registered for social sites. Of those 59%, only 15% update their status and only 20% respond to other people’s posts.

In other words, it seems that roughly 10% of the population is active enough on social media to be a POSSIBLE target. Otherwise, we have some lurkers and a great number of fully inactives.

It gets more interesting when we add in this infographic posted on Mashable. . (Click here for Infographic.)

What’s interesting in this data is that the primary reason people who are on social media also connect with brands is to chase deals. It’s the single biggest brand connection reason at 37% of Facebook users. That compares with 32% who follow because they’re already customers. And a tiny 6% follow because their friends are fans. (Sorry viral enthusiasts.)

Digging deeper we find that over half report friending 5 or fewer brands. FIVE!!!!! That’s five brands out of the 500 or 600 in their lives.

And, continuing the “social media = green stamps” theory, the interaction people have had most often with a brand is entering a sweepstakes (70%). Social media is going to be a successful medium for driving brand preference? Riiiiiight.

Here’s the real kicker: In all this discussion of brands, we aren’t necessarily talking about Toyota. The Top 2 brands consumers report are… Facebook and YouTube. Hmmm. That suggests that the average consumer may engage with less than 3 brands in social media. Yikes – that’s a tiny number.

Some Bottom Line Guesses This gives strength to some hueristically suggested axioms of social media that I’ve been pondering. Here’s a go at it:

– No more than 5% of your target market are active enough on social media to be reachable. (There will be a few exceptions if you have the right product – like tools to aide with social media.)
– Consumers will follow no more than 1% of the brands that are meaningful in their lives. So why expect that it’s you?
– Social media’s economic power comes primarily from “let’s make a deal” announcements, coupons, or free give-aways.
– The majority of your most sophisticated, economically valuable, and brand passionate consumers won’t connect with your brand on social media.
– Effective viral use of social media is so rare that it shouldn’t be seriously considered for a major brand communication effort.

Down at the bottom is one last statistic. They ask “have you ever been influenced by the web when buying a product?”. Um. Duh. A (not) surprising 97% say yes. Note what they didn’t ask: Have you been influenced by social media when buying a product?

Social media is a great medium to achieve certain things. But it will only reach a limited portion of your target market, that portion is NOT going to virally spread your message, and that portion is very “deal oriented” – they are NOT your premium brand customers.

So let’s integrate social into all of our campaigns – it should be. But please, can you evangelists finally stop claiming it’s the entire future of advertising?

Copyright 2011 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

Brand Begins and Ends with Your Products (Or Services).

I once sat in a meeting discussing a highly successful TV campaign. Underlying the discussion there’s this funny unspoken question from the brand side of the house: “How can it be good branding if it sold so well?”

The truth is that product is your best way to build brand. But this has been lost by the billion dollar brand consultancies and amidst the plethora of marketing PhD dissertations – with collusion from creative teams who learn the hard way that their best opportunity to get the NEXT ad job is to ignore product in THIS one.

Consider the brand ecosystem chart Forrester tweeted today. (Link here.) I challenge you to find product in this brand activity chart. Oh, yes. It’s there…somewhere…amidst all the complexity.

It took me a while to find it. But the product seems to be hidden in the upper right in touchpoint #5 – “Use”. That’s funny, this chart gives it one word. But “using the product” is 95% of a consumer’s interaction with the brand. (If consumer interaction with product is below 95% be afraid. That means you’ve got a quality problem and they’re probably pretty mad at you.)
Read more of this post

Want Consumers To Pay Attention To Your Ads? Make Them Meaningful.

A few weeks ago I ran across this article titled “Four Reasons Why We Choose to Watch Ads”. Seemed like a smart read because I always love to see simple lists about advertising. Read more of this post

An Axiom For New Media: Big Numbers are NOT the Same as Meaningful Numbers

It seems like everything we hear about the new media world is based on big numbers. Hundreds of millions of these and bazillions of those – all delivered with mega-pico-tetra zillions of impressions. Why do we keep falling for big numbers?

I have this theory that we all have an instinctive built-in “adjustment” we apply to sales or promotional numbers. It goes like this: “They say it will save me thousands of dollars. I bet they’re over-stating. But if it still saves me hundreds, I’m happy. So I’ll buy it.” Unfortunately, once the numbers are big enough, our instinctive adjustment isn’t enough – but we use it anyway.

The yell & sell infomercial guys figured this out long ago. In yell & sell, they often make the numbers so huge that even after we adjust the numbers, they’re still impressive. And the truth is, manipulation with these numbers sells a lot of product. (There’s probably an interesting dissertation for someone in figuring out the differences between categories where we adjust by 20% and others where we adjust by an order of magnitude as in my example.)

New media evangelists have picked up this yell & sell gamut and draped it with the credibility of being “measured ROI”, by having the numbers come from a research firm, or by having them “audited”.

Here’s a great Lady Gaga one I heard at a Google presentation: “Lady Gaga posted a music video and got 95 million views in a year. Just think about it, only 500,000 people are watching MTV at any point in time.” Read more of this post

Power to the Consumer! (At least until the next fad.)

2011 is the time of massive movement in advertising — a revolution. And this revolution restructures everything we do – from how we make our populist coffee to beginning to care whether our messages are meaningful.

We’re placing consumers #1! Because now, here, in 2011 and despite the incredible buffer ad agencies and marketers erect around the ivory towers, we’ve discovered that real people buy our products! That’s right – real people! Imagine!

Why is that today we hear “power to the consumer” from so many people who could truly care less about the consumer? (Those who care about the consumer show it in their actions far more than they talk about it.)

I’m reminded of an experience early in my career while employed by the world’s largest aerospace company. My division was a service division. At some point complaints from the operating divisions drove a decision to train us to be “customer focused”. We all spent a day listening to an evangelical preacher/business consultant as he alliterated his way to astounding heights of emotional empowerment. And, he exhorted us to care for our customers.

My boss at the time, a sage senior manager and an ex-Navy radar expert, explained the truth. “You know,” he told me, “people like you who are customer centric will continue to be. But the people who really need this training will now talk about being customer centric without becoming customer centric. What a waste of our time.”

It seems that for the vast majority in the ad biz, consumer concern is means to an end – a fad. Right now, we’re in the equivalent of a gold rush where agencies and tech companies preach consumer respect because they think it will make them rich. But as soon as markets shift and the winds of profit blow against this fad, those same companies will go dashing off after some other big idea. And where will we be?

Those companies who understand their consumers and deliver things they need will continue to succeed as has always been the case.

And those who don’t, won’t.

And in the aftermath of the gold rush, the tumbleweeds of artificial consumer respect will gather against the abandoned decaying hulks of buildings that once housed those who only claimed to respect consumers.

Fortunately, the real world will still be a good place to live. So the rest of us will continue to run our businesses respecting the consumer, delivering results for our clients, and making decent money.

Copyright 2011 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

The Misleading Desire for Market Research Innovation

The other day this New York Times article popped onto my radar. While I wasn’t surprised by the content, it reminded me that today’s innovation obsession leads people to sell dramatic change regardless of whether it’s appropriate.

Take research. Is there any good reason to expect that there’s a “magic pill” that makes market research dramatically more effective? Research learns about a marketing fundamental that cannot be completely knowable: how to get people to buy products.

We would all be wise to reject any magic pill claims for research. There are a great many excellent research techniques – the key is applying them in ways that are effective and evolving them wisely as technology allows.

None-the-less the NYT article starts down the yellow brick road of research innovation.

Our article today starts with the researcher attempting to justify seeking innovation.

“We’re savvy, we’re jaded, we’re tired of advertising,” Ms. Sanna said.

Isn’t it odd that the agency and research people spit this phrase out with the most angst? (I once called this attitude on the part of agencies “self-loathing”. That finally got the attention of some of my colleagues.)

Certainly consumers aren’t always thrilled with advertising. But listen to them with an open mind and you’ll hear their primary frustration is that advertisers have stopped saying anything meaningful.

Even worse, the claimed research innovation has nothing to do with resolving any consumer frustration with advertising. So what is really going on here?

Is this drive for research innovation really just hoping to find different answers – ones we’d rather hear? A great deal of the market research used today should be criticized for applying a good technique in the wrong situation or for poor execution. But that doesn’t set up a need for research “innovation”.

Obviously, the desire to innovate is the desire to set your research firm apart and make loads of money. But research innovation sells by offering agencies and clients the opportunity to avoid inconvenient truths – like the reality that research reveals their ad campaigns aren’t effective.

It’s much easier to hope that an “innovative” research method will return a better liked answer than to confront an agency’s own shortcomings.

Let’s consider the specifics in this article. This sounds like a fun technique. But it’s justified based as being more “spontaneous” than focus groups.

Hmmm. There is no reason spontaneity should be an end in itself. But a well constructed focus group has always been able to be spontaneous.

Of course, the NYTimes wouldn’t write about something as powerful, but already understood, as focus groups. So this team uses innovation to get page space.

Is it a smart innovation to have people express feelings through art? Not really. Art is a very poor communication medium for most people. I’ve worked a lot with art and the subconcious process. Years of drawing classes. Years working with and around psychologists. Decades as a musician. Twenty years in advertising and 10 years teaching advertising. Married to an artist and good friends with many.

A few people express effectively what’s hidden for them through art. But that is a minority group – probably no more than 10% of the population. The vast majority are easily influenced by comments from the researcher, other people around them, or, in the case of collage, the materials offered. If anything appears to come clear in their work, it’s an accident into which very little should be read.

The Most Fundamental Weakness: You’ll never know how your moderator influenced a collage. The single biggest danger in research is that the researcher or client influence the answers. That’s more likely with art based research.

In the case described by the NYT there’s tremendous influence imposed by the Barbie – a symbolic element that carries a wide range of powerful meanings. The researcher might have thought Barbie was a brilliant stroke. I think it invalidates the entire process.

A Barbie is such a strong symbol that it will work subconsciously. For example, maybe they tell you an upside down Barbie represents life out of control. Unconciously, the participant may have placed Barbie to show resentment for the way the doll influences body image expectations. Or it might reflect self-criticisms, a bad marriage, or rejection of a role expected by society. Placing her upside down could have been an act of anger that wouldn’t ever be acknowledged to a stranger – a stranger like a researcher.

Collages probably tell us more about the researchers. What a beautiful Rorschach if we wanted to learn about everyone interpreting the research – the researcher, the client, the agency, and anyone else. A collage interpretation probably reflects the researcher’s own prejudices more than those of the research subject.

It’s sad they abandoned a reliable qualitative research mechanism like focus groups or individual interviews. But they have an answer for this. And it’s silly. Consider what the article impugns:

“Experts say…”. WRONG!!!!! The writer should have said “…people selling a new research idea told me…” Nothing wrong with it. But the author should remember that these people have an agenda that affects their income.

“Responses can be influenced by the marketers presence.” Of course they can. But only if you really screw it up. What had these researchers been doing – holding the groups inside client facilities?

“…One person may dominate a whole group”. Only with pathetically poor moderators – who have you guys been working with? It’s fundamental moderator training to ensure a balanced discussion. And it’s simply not that hard.

My favorite focus group critique (not used here) is: Focus groups are a problem because people influence each other. To which my reply is: Of course they do. That’s why we bring them together in a group.

Here’s why focus groups find important things: What one person says helps another dig deeper, then that one helps a third, then the third leads the first to consider something else, and finally a fourth reveals a deeply buried truth that’s very critical. And you can’t get to that truth WITHOUT them helping each other discover it.

“‘There’s no better way than nonverbal communication to understand how people feel,’ Ms. Freeman said.” My god. Didn’t she think about that comment before she said it?

Let me recommend my blog post (here) about the extreme danger of placing interpretations onto things you can only observe. We need to be constantly aware of how scientists reading the purely observational fossil record have been so wrong so many times. Which of your personal prejudices led to your personal interpretation of someone else’s “nonverbal communication”?

Research must deliver actionable truths – those that will accurately be used within your strategy to choose the best course of action or to reject a poor course of action. Does this new research advance us along that path in any significant way? No.

So the next time someone suggests we need “new types” of research, take a deep breath. Then send them to your competitor. It’ll serve the competitor right.

Copyright 2011 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved