Socially acceptable

Morag Cuddeford-Jones asks if social media is taking market research in a new direction or is it a case of the Emperor’s new clothes?

Some call it disposable; others say it’s “on-trend” but one thing is clear – today’s high-street fashion lives or dies by its fast turnaround. Hanging around for six weeks for the result of a survey is not an option.

“Feedback just can’t take that long in this business,” states Oliver Lucas, head of brand planning and insight for high-street fashion retailer New Look. “We need to be able to consult our customers all the time.”

A year ago the retailer set up the My Look networking site which allows a select group of New Look customers to interact, comment and propose ideas for the brand. “First and foremost it’s an environment where the customer is empowered and can freely express opinion. We would like to think that through this they have the opportunity to shape the brand,” Lucas explains.

Counter to the idea that the mass appeal of social networks provides a broad and diverse sample, necessary to scale research to larger numbers, Lucas points out that the My Look community is restricted: “For the users to feel engaged and valued we keep the numbers tight – no more than 5,000. It’s like a walled garden for our friends. We’re turning away four for every one that we accept.”

The ‘trusted friends’ network’s reward for its insight and co-creational potential is the feeling of exclusivity the club’s membership brings, with access to sneek peeks at the latest collection, invitations to store events and competitions among others.

While the community is proving to be a revelation in terms of fast, on-trend insight from the core customer base, Lucas insists that it is not the be all and end all of the retailer’s insight resource.

“It’s part of the mix and it has replaced some of the more time-consuming elements of traditional research. But, it does have its limitations,” he warns. “We have to bear in mind that the audience is more likely to feel warmth towards the brand. If you’re looking to survey the basic brand health checks then it’s not that accurate. In those cases, we’d use a brand tracker for example.”

New Look is treating social media as an evolutionary as well as revolutionary tool “It’s the next level in terms of getting people to respond to surveys,” Lucas says. The conversation is continuing and is making itself felt across the whole organisation: “Some users are so good they’re like consultants. I’d be happy putting them on the payroll!”

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