How Marketers Are Finally Getting to Know Their Customers

Over 90% of consumers rely on independent, online reviews before making a purchase, according to Dimensional Research. This is just one characteristic of the digitally focused, yet multichannel customer—who poses a daunting challenge and incredible opportunity for marketers.

Marketing teams no longer have the luxury to consider their digital and social campaigns as a supplement to traditional mass marketing. Rather, given the shift of consumers to mobile technology and social engagement, marketers now need to lead with digital and drive with deep social intelligence.

As social media expands exponentially, the massive volumes, incredible variety, and never-ending velocity of billions of daily discussions have become a textbook example of Big Data. As such, to harness the wealth of understanding from it—ranging from consumer insights to competitive intelligence—marketing, product, and brand teams are turning to advanced processing technology and complex concept models in place of first-generation monitoring tools and keyword lists. Brands are also relying on social media command centers to instantly distill relevant information and discover genuine insight within the mass of useless noise.

Getting to know you

Knowing the customer” has been a battle cry for marketing for the past few decades. The difference today is that marketers can actually know their customers, without guessing, simply by leveraging digital ethnography to listen to what they’re saying.


Having the ability to visualize millions of consumers based on their needs, attitudes, actions, and experiences delivers multidimensional insight to drive critical marketing components, ranging from promotions to product innovation. Marketers can gain deep understanding of what prospects and customers want, need, like, and dislike without ever asking a question. And they can do this on a continual basis to track markets shift in the always-on world.

As an example, pictured is a generic view of the path-to-purchase for potato chips. This reveals a complex series of considerations and decisions that many consumers go through in their decision process even for a low-priced snack food.

Understanding customers at this level can help marketers to meet consumers’ ever-increasing demands for personal experiences from brands. For years marketers have used segmentation to deliver some level of personalization, traditionally driven by surveys and focus groups, resulting in segments and strategies for millions driven by the opinions of dozens.

Social intelligence elevates segmentation to a new level with the ability to personify shoppers, consumers, prospects, and customers based on their attitudes, opinions, actions, and experiences shared across the open social universe. 

Getting sentimental

Tracking customer sentiment is another area that marketers have been pursuing to better understand customers and deliver more personalized experiences. With this come significant issues for marketers. First, the accuracy of sentiment based on keywords has always ben questionable. For example, the word “sick” has an entirely different meaning to Mountain Dew as it does for Tylenol. Second, traditional social tools tend to deliver “buzz” at a 30,000-foot level, indicating simply whether a brand would win a popularity contest—which doesn’t tell the marketer much. Finally, this data is largely not actionable and thus cannot help guide strategy or drive decisions.

Conversely, with the use of complex concept models, consumer sentiment can get very specific and highly actionable. In this example for a snack food, the consumer sentiment for a series of product features and attributes is measured. Note that the product’s calorie content is considerably negativity among consumers, whereas the grains contained in the snack are considered positive. The brand team can use this specific intelligence to educate consumers, enhance messaging, or modify packaging to highlight the positives.

The bottom line

An increasing number of marketers are taking advantage of the wealth of social intelligence on their businesses, products, brands, services, consumers, markets, and competitors that comes from billions of daily social discussions. They’re using this insight to understand the needs, dislikes, needs, wants, actions, and attitudes of consumers to set strategy, test products, and drive innovation.

The key to achieving this intelligence is understanding that social media is complex Big Data that spans millions of sources, well beyond Facebook and Twitter, and requires an advanced processing technology and concept modeling to discover valuable insights across the entire open social universe.

Mark Harrington is CMO of ListenLogic.

Examples within this article are used with permission from the book Social Business Intelligence: Reducing Risk, Building Brands and Driving Growth with Social Media.

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