Online market research real-time emotions a true source of insight

Real-time online responses and neuroscience techniques are allowing marketers to generate meaningful insight at the point where consumers interact with a brand.

Online market research has long laboured under the impression that it is a quick and cheap way of collecting large volumes of responses to surveys of limited scope. But as the online environment becomes a more important part of people’s lives, its research potential increases to give marketers access to a much deeper understanding of consumers.

Perhaps the greatest scope for innovation lies in the ability to capitalise on real-time information. The online space offers an immediacy of response unrivalled by any other platform. And with the convergence of mobile and computer-based technologies, this can only increase.
One burgeoning real-time trend is immediate customer feedback that is relayed to brand owner and consumers simultaneously. A number of brands are using this information to demonstrate their engagement with customers and collate information about brand perception.

Clothing retailer ASOS has developed with web design agency Thrudigital to aggregate all mentions of its brand online and in real time. The data is then reproduced on the review, changing colour to denote whether it is positive or negative.

Because the data is presented in such a simple way, both consumers and employees can use it, argues James Hart, ecommerce director at “It will be visible to our customers and our colleagues at ASOS HQ. It’s a great feedback tool.”

Charles Dalton Moore, chief executive at Thrudigital agency, believes having positive and negative feedback so publicly displayed can help a brand. “It’s a key thing for marketers to be able to view the essential learnings of all that data in just a few minutes,” he says. “That’s why there is a real focus on visualisations.”

Online and telephone bank First Direct has taken a similar approach to show what is being said about the brand in real time. It is using a word cloud display where words featuring heavily in comments are larger than those mentioned less frequently. “All three of our widgets were created as a way of visually expressing the data we were harvesting from all the blogs, forums and other websites, in as engaging a way as possible,” says First Direct head of brand Natalie Cowen.

Although Thrudigital was not involved in the creation of First Direct’s word cloud microsite, the agency did an experimental project on parent company HSBC. Dalton-Moore says: “Instead of the things we were expecting around bank charges or the economy, the biggest negative reaction we were seeing in real time was reaction to the chief executive’s recent appearances in the press. I doubt that if you had set out with a particular research brief about the impacts on the HSBC brand, that you would have returned such a result.”

Social media isn’t just being used as a quick method of communication between brand and customer, it is also providing a much richer seam of information on the basis of customer co-creation, or crowdsourcing. Francesco D’Orazio, research director of co-creation and digital research agency Face, calls this “adaptive research in real time”.

Philippa Rose, global CMI manager at Axe Skin (Unilever)

Our core audience of 16- to 24-year-old men exist online. The key selling point of the online research space is how open and honest our target demographic can be, which is something you wouldn’t get in a face-to-face situation.

The potential for scale is also hugely exciting, particularly for the US marketing team. Ideally, to get there and conduct research we would traditionally aim for three cities but realistically the focus would be on one. Using online we can target the urban New York teen and the cowboy in Wisconsin.

But in innovation terms I haven’t heard of anything that is shockingly new for some time and while the client is often a few steps behind the rest of the industry, a brand such as Axe is built on taking risks.

Although wider social media platforms and the attendant Twittering and tag clouds it produces make for an interesting listening project, the lack of rigour in the response groups concerns me. I want to know who is saying what. Can you really verify who is saying what about your brand? You can identify the computer, but not the person using it. The one thing with face-to-face research is that you can identify the people you are talking to.

Topline trends

  • Real-time data provides a more honest insight into the consumer’s reaction to your brand.
  • As a rule, be aware that online is restricted to a certain demographic.
  • Brands are pushing for more emotional insight that can be accessed via timely technology and surveys based on past academic research.
  • Using the latest science and technology can be an interesting foundation to research but keep an eye on your motivations for using it and be able to justify the often large expense.
  • Consumers’ views of privacy have changed in terms of how much information they will spontaneously provide, but you still need their permission to invade their space.


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