Zeus of Marketing

Can Social Media Substitute Market Research?

April 14th, 2011

95% Confidence Level?

Last week AdAge article on P&G wanting less methodology dogma and more projections seems to have re-stirred this controversy between classical market research companies and digital age enthusiasts (disclaimer; in case you haven’t noticed, I am in this camp). To tell you the truth the answer to this this question in the short term is a definite;  It depends!!!!

Conditions for a resounding yes:

If you value speed to market over analysis paralisys:  YES!!
If you have clear marketing objectives and a well oiled monitoring/analysis/engagement process: YES!!!
If you are in a finicky/latest trend industry (think fashion, toys, pet rocks) : YES!!!
If your primary target market is millennials : YES!!!

Conditions for a “resounding” no or  perhaps,  a “maybe:¨

If you are in a high involvement industry (think pharma, financial services) or B2B: NO!!!
If you are in a luxury category: Maybe!!!
If your strategy involves being a market follower rather than innovator: NO!!!, but then again you probably never did any kind of market research anyway.

The good news for all marketers (not classical market researchers) is that information mining technologies are advancing at a faster pace than Facebook subscribers in 2009. Meaning that,  in the not so distant future when these technologies are more strongly ingrained into existing Social Media monitoring and analysis tools,  no customer research will be able to match its statistical projectability (and in a worldwide basis).

The news for classic market researchers; ignore these trends at your own peril.

The truth is, certain activities will never be replaced. There is nothing like walking the aisles of your existing retail channels and observing your customer purchasing behavior (these can not be read about), or a one-on-one conversation to get AHA!! type of insights as mentioned in my previous blog, with an existing or potential customer. But these are not traditional market research methodologies, they are sound business practices for every person in your organization. Believe me, P&G will continue to send their brand assistants on store checks and executives at all levels will sit with Walmart and Carrefour executives face-to-face from now to eternity, but market research as we know it is changing for the better.

I know, I am pretty opinionated on this issue (the Capricorn in me)?  The truth is that my experience in technology over the past 10 years has shown how disruptive technology can be to complacent business models. Additionally, when Joan Lewis, global consumer and market knowledge officer of Procter & Gamble Co., with its $350 million in annual market-research outlays makes supporting statements, it makes it very difficult to convince me otherwise.

Stay tuned for my next blog.  In the meantime, please share your thoughts below; I appreciate each and every one of your insightful comments, and I promise to pay extra attention to any opposing point of view. You can also contact me via email: zeus@jrgrana.com, Twitter: @zeusofmarketing and Facebook: Zeus of Marketing. You can also find additional contact information via LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/jrgrana

Additional reading recommendation: I really enjoyed this blog by Mike Moran in Biznology: Will Social Media Listening Replace Market Research? It not only presents his views on the issue but also confirms my views on how social media benefits other areas such as customer service and product development.


Entry Filed under: SCRM,Social Media

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jeffrey-Slater/100000622891113 Jeffrey Slater


    When you shine a light on something, you have an effect on it. This blog post about lessons from physics shines a light on this topic. I believe that social medias power comes from being able to listen to people describe their behavior and attitudes. Focus Groups are useful directional pieces of information- but there is nothing like watching (or listening) to someone in context, buys or using a product or service.

    Social media is a listening tool at its essence from a research perspective.

    Jeff Slater

  • Elizabeth Suarez

    I guess I fall in your camp when it comes to this issue. And this comes from a focus group moderator that has focused on high school Latino teenagers. I still conduct the focus groups but in between these focus groups that is where social media comes in. It is amazing how much we learn about their behavior.

    Additionally, I have used social media to gain some insight into my target market needs when it comes to the field of alternative dispute resolution. The information I have gathered (I know it is non-scientific) it has guided me in developing training, speeches and even blog posts.

    I really enjoyed this post; like all of you other posts. Keep them coming.


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