Digital Essay 2019: Changing the game by listening, by Anish Dasgupta, Rain Creative

By Anish Dasgupta, Brand Partner, Rain Creative

As strategists, we spend a lot of our time doing consumer research because the foundation of our work lies in our understanding of the audience. But we’re still challenged when it comes to high-involvement categories like personal care, pet care, travel and hospitality – which require a deeper understanding of audience behaviour and perception.

Traditionally, our audience understanding has come from primary research backed by learnings from secondary research. Its value is derived from the fact that it comes directly from the consumer and, therefore, is the most accurate. And, while we all have had a lot of success with it, primary research is not without its limitations. One problem is interview bias – so there’s a chance that we’re not being told the truth, or at least the whole truth. Another limitation is the size of the audience sample we talk to. And then there’s always the chance that the sampling itself is flawed or biased.

As strategists, we appreciate the value of “listening in” on a conversation because it’s the unfiltered truth. The proliferation of social media over the last decade, however, has now given us an alternative to traditional research techniques. In essence, social media platforms have now become the world’s largest, and constantly growing, repository of consumer perception and behaviour data. And listening tools are giving us ways to mine and analyse it in ways that we could never do with our interviews.

Over the last year, listening data and analysis have effectively turned around our approach to brand research at Rain and changed how we are engaging with clients.

The number of conversations that have happened in a category tell us not just whether consumers find it engaging, but also give us a scale to measure the extent of engagement when compared with other categories. There’s even a metric that tells us how passionately a consumer talks about a brand/product – distinguishing between “like” and “love”. True story: we used it to settle a “chocolate or ice cream” preference debate for one of the world’s major FMCG companies (the answer is ice cream, by the way).

Knowing what time of day people are most likely to talk about a product – combined with location mapping – taught us when to monitor conversations and engage audiences in real-time.

What’s more, the data is also allowing us to challenge some basics of a client’s brief. For example, earlier this year a legacy brand sent us a brief for a brand affinity campaign. We noticed that their defined audience demographic didn’t match that of our conversation analysis and we pointed that out to them. As a result, they have now set their desired audience demographic a good 10 years younger.

And all of that is before we deep-dive into the conversations. A thorough analysis of conversations leaves us with key conversation themes, associated brands, and even what was said during a particular stage of the product purchase cycle.

Further, having a listening tool is also very liberating because it allows us to do quick comparisons, which traditionally would have taken a month or more. For instance, it took us just a couple of days to compare category communication across five competition brands and identify key communication themes they were focusing on and how much of it had actually permeated into the audience’s conversation. The findings led a prominent vision-care brand to re-evaluate their messaging strategy in the region.

This ability to analyse competition conversation is among the more important strategic benefits of listening. For example, looking at negative conversation around a competition brand led us to identify a clear USP for a client that was looking to break into the highly competitive skin-care category.

Listening is a game changer for marketing and communications. It is challenging our perceptions and practices at every step with irrefutable real-time data. It is up to us as strategists to incorporate it into our processes to increase the sharpness and accuracy of our recommendations.