How technology drives insight and insight drives technology

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The insight that is coming from social commerce is bringing brands closer to their customers, so marketers need to get to grips with how to put those insights to good use, and create initiatives that will field that insight.

Prenatal is a European maternity and early childhood brand that has revealed how digital insights have enabled it to create stronger engagement with key audiences.

Presenting at a conference in Berlin this week held by software company Day, Prenatal spoke of a cyclical effect – how technology can create initiatives that can field deeper insights, but also how insight needs to be gathered first to get the knowledge to find the right kind of technology to suit the brand.

The mother and babycare retailer, which has 437 stores in 14 countries, conducted extensive research in multiple countries at the beginning of 2009 and used the findings to help formulate its web strategy. The brand wanted to understand the differences in concepts of motherhood in different countries and how this could influence how it needs to speak to consumers in individual markets.

The study showed that, in countries such as the UK and the Netherlands, motherhood is viewed in a more modern way, with mothers preferring to expose their children to stimulus to develop and challenge them. Whereas in countries such as Spain, Italy and Greece, motherhood is viewed traditionally, with a dominant feeling of mothers wanting to protect and nurture their children closely.

The research highlighted that the brand needed to be more in line with mothers’ needs. Prenatal’s international e-commerce director Chris Wilson revealed how the study’s findings fed into a new objective for the brand around moving e-commerce beyond just a simple transaction.

“Our objective was to be a community oriented site, to deliver experiences across multiple channels, across countries, and allow for evolution of our platform,” he said at the conference.

A new web portal has now been developed in response to the research findings. The portal merges social networking and e-commerce. Not only does the site offer features akin to that of sites such as Mumsnet in the UK, like forums and chatrooms, but it also contains blogs, product ratings and reviews. Additionally, it gives users the ability to “friend” each other and to even identify users at a similar stage of motherhood, such as newly pregnant, or just given birth.

Users will also see a different homepage relevant to their journey in motherhood, such as content made relevant to where they are at in their stage of pregnancy or related to the age of their toddler. “This supports the brand’s desire to create true intimacy with our customers,” Wilson told the conference.

And, more than just creating the next social networking platform for mums to share tips on breastfeeding, the insights gained from hosting that space where mums are spending their time online are invaluable. “Prenatal can observe our customer behaviour to better understand the customer needs and experiences they are having with our products and services,” Wilson explained. He added that the insight journey began, however, in conducting the research into the customer base in the first place, the old fashioned way of quantitative and qualitative analysis.

“It’s about getting to grips with who our true customer is – if we don’t, we can create the most beautiful website, but it won’t deliver what you want unless you have that understanding.”

I can’t make that point better myself. However, his presentation was met with some scepticism by an Italian journalist who I met during the coffee break. “Is that whole social platform really going to make a difference in sales?” he scoffed. “Mums might be chatting on your site but it doesn’t mean they are going to buy more stuff from you.”

Doesn’t it? Surely the more time they spend on the Prenatal site and the more “friends” they make and the more chats they get involved in, the less time they are spending seeking out the brand’s competitors when it comes to getting their purses out for the functional mother and baby products they really need.

I answered the Italian journalist in my best Marketing Week tone: “They will have to wait and see, I suppose, and measure their sales and place in the market a year after launching their platform. The figures will then speak for themselves, and if they don’t Prenatal will have to find out what it is they have done wrong.”

Measurability is something that will ring true for all social commerce ventures which are relatively new to brands’ online strategies. Although, it seems their value is already becoming apparent in terms of the comments and behaviour brands can readily observe without worrying about the implications of spying on people via Facebook.

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