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Amazon aspires to be “Earth’s most customer-centric company” and CEO Jeff Bezos speaks passionately not about customer-driven, but customer obsession. An empty chair is often kept in meetings, where the customer is symbolically seated.

As we start 2014 more and more CEOs are recognising that to deliver sustainable competitive advantage in the digital age they have to be able to meet the demands and expectations of today’s empowered and connected consumers consistently and continuously in real time. To achieve this successfully their organisations are going to have to put the customer at the heart of everything they do and then apply scaleable social technologies across the entire company to help make this happen in a human way. They are going to have to become what is being coined a “human era” company, able to manage brands that are more “human”, people-powered entities.

Applying customer obsession in the digital age

Customer obsession in the digital age means understanding that consumers expect their interactions with your organisation and brands to be not just “always on” but “on demand”. They want to be able to do things immediately and interact anywhere at anytime (immediate, real time); they want to do truly new things that create value for them and that delight them (valuable). They expect all data stored about them to be targeted precisely to their needs and personalised to their experience (relevant & personal). Above all they expect their interactions to be simple (easy). And lastly the “on demand” customer desires a more human interaction with companies and brands (human).

Meaningful human connections can’t be formed in one direction — they require the company or brand to reciprocate, to level with consumers. When they do, the connections become a foundation for something we all intuitively understand and value highly: trust. However, for companies to be human in deeds as well as words, a fundamentally different mindset must prevail – that the role of the firm is no longer just to make and sell products, but also to engage deeply and openly with customers as collaborators in creating value together  (Social Capital).

Already, search technologies have made product information ubiquitous; social media encourages consumers to share, compare, and rate experiences; and mobile devices add a “wherever” dimension to the digital environment. Technology will only continue to empower consumer expectations in these five ways. Further developments in mobile connectivity, better designed online spaces created with the powerful new HTML5 web language, the activation of the Internet of Things in many devices through inexpensive communications tags and micro-transmitters, and advances in handling “big data” will just accelerate the appetite of the “on demand” customer. Soon they will be able to search by image, voice, and gesture; automatically participate with others by taking pictures or making transactions; and discover new opportunities with devices that augment reality in their field of vision (think Google Glass).

So to deliver against these 5 key expectations of Immediate, Valuable, Personal, Easy and Human in real time there needs to be a clear framework where the “on demand customer” is at the heart of everything a company does. A customer driven knowledge framework that sits at the centre of a company’s organisation like the hub of a bicycle wheel where all marketing and business disciplines feed in to and out from the “on demand” customer.

Putting the voice of today's consumer at the center

Applying social technology with a human touch

The application of social technology is essential to helping companies put the “on demand” customer at the heart of a company.  In many ways technology can also allow companies to be more human; to do things that we would naturally do in 1-2-1 and face-to-face situations. Technology can help us apply a human touch but on a mass scale. But achieving this can be a major effort for organizations that were not born digital.

What is most challenging for our clients is the ability to operate in a joined-up, end-to-end way. Many of the companies we work for are siloed around different functions or geographies. But “on demand” customers expect a fully consistent and joined-up experience. And that requires companies to think quite differently about the way they organize, their governance structures, and their standards for data and systems.

It’s also apparent that this is not just about the marketing function on its own. The company as a whole must mobilize to deliver high-quality experiences across multiple disciplines and across the entire value chain: sales, innovation and collaboration, service, product use, finance, logistics and marketing. Social technologies can help ensure “on demand customers” touch every part of the organisation in a human way and every part of the organisation is driven in real time by “on-demand” customer expectations.

Applying Socially Intelligent Research

McKinsey said recently: “We’re placing a bet that as customer behavior becomes more fluid and complex and where business models can be disrupted overnight, the client community will welcome the opportunity to have a more holistic, adaptive and responsive view of the customer”. 

To win over on-demand customers, companies will increasingly need to spend a lot of time getting to know them, what they expect, and what works with them, and then have the ability to reach them with the right kind of interaction and content at the right time. Unsurprisingly at FACE we believe that big social data integrated with other research methodologies lies at the heart of efforts to build that understanding—data to define and contextualize trends, data to measure the effectiveness of activities and investments at key points in the consumer decision journey, and data to understand how and why individuals move along those journeys.

Here are 3 important questions we want our clients to be asking themselves this year:

1. How does our customer experience compare with that of leaders in other sectors?

2. What will our customers expect in the future, and what will it take to delight them?

3. Do we have clear plans for how to meet or exceed their expectations?

We believe that socially intelligent research has a big role to play in helping companies and brands become more socially intelligent by informing their behaviour with a holistic view of the consumer so that they become more human, more social, people powered entities.

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Bad Andrew picture

Andrew Needham is a Founding Partner and CEO of FACE Research. A pioneer in the use of social data in qualitative and quantitative research to deliver a holistic view of the consumer, Andrew is leading the global expansion of FACE. 

 

 Read more of Andrew’s thoughts here. Or reach out to him on LinkedIn or Twitter.

A few weeks ago I was invited to speak on Social Data Week’s panel “Passion, Disruption and Connection: Building Brands in a Social World” (see the video of the panel discussion below).  One of the key themes I was expounding that chimed well with the audience was the importance of context over content.

Passion, Disruption and Connection: Building Brand from Social Data Week on Vimeo.

Going beyond just the “what”

The first generation of social media monitoring platforms such as Radian6 concentrate mainly on just what is being said across the social web. But the second generation of tools, our own Pulsar being a leader among them, are offering more intelligent solutions.

Pulsar focuses not only on the content of what is being said but by indexing and analysing everything around that content. When a message comes into the dataset, Pulsar enriches it in real-time with 30 types of metadata, ranging from demographics and behaviours to location, semantic tagging and link analysis. This means we’re able to see the context, behaviour and demographics related to a message, as well as the author’s social and interest graphs. So It’s only by building the context of a conversation that a fuller picture becomes available.

Understanding your audiences in real time: Social Panels

It is this ability to provide greater context to huge datasets that has allowed us to mine social data by audience. So rather than just look at the conversations people are having about a particular brand, product or service through keywords, we can understand all the conversations an individual or group of individuals are having about any and every topic they mention. And we can target this, identifying discrete groups of people such as brand followers, bloggers, mums, or tech experts (the list is endless) to understand all of their passions and interests in real time through social panels.  We believe that this is where brands need to start if they are to deliver against one of Social Data Week’s most popular soundbites, “Brands don’t have target markets: they have target moments”.

In order to build more engaging, relevant and personalized content and communications strategies, brands need to understand their audiences in real time, all of the time.

A good example is what one of our major retail clients was able to achieve in the lead up to Christmas 2012. The Marketing Director explained “Those final seven days make for an anxious week for customers as there are many “aha” moments when you realize that you forgot to buy some of those critical individual items. From the insight garnered from social data we were able to feed into our advertising in real time with what customers had been saying they had forgotten”. As a result they were able to check that they were stocking their stores with the right items.

Integrating social data with other data sets 

This retailer along with other clients are recognizing the ability of social data in helping them to achieve the powerful combination of being able to augment what customers are feeling with what customers are doing or actually buying. Rewarding customers through loyalty-based schemes on what they have bought is commonplace – but linking that to what customers would like to buy or be rewarded for based on an understanding of their interests, passions, hopes and desires is another new dimension.

As our CIO Francesco D’Orazio says, companies are realizing the huge potential of connecting social data with their other datasets such as sales, NPS, stock trading and media exposure. This is something we’re excited to be developing with clients already – watch this space.

Building social brands is about building a social business

All of this helps to remind us of the fundamental driver of all things social: it’s about people. And what they do and say to each other is more important than what brands and companies do and say to them.

From our social media audience studies we know that people spend far less than 1% of their time talking about a particular brand, product or service. Instead they spend all the rest of the time talking to friends and talking about their passions and interests.

This is important to remember when reading the interesting study from Ogilvy Social that was being discussed by one of the other panelists Irfan Kamal. It also reminds us of the transformational scale of social data and the impact it is having on existing business models. It is forcing companies to put the customer at the heart of their entire organization in real time.

As one of our major global clients said recently, The social web is fundamentally changing customer expectations, customer experiences, how they talk to you; the value they create for you beyond just buying something (social capital vs economic capital); and the relationships they have with you and their fellow customers”.

So this means companies need to understand social data is not just about brand marketing. It is much greater than this. Ultimately to build social brands companies need to build social businesses and social ecosystems.

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One of the favorite parts of my job is when someone asks me “What does Face do?” While we do research, we are so much more than that, now that we’ve publicly launched Pulsar TRAC, our social intelligence platform and we have established a profitable global footprint with offices in Hong Kong, Singapore and New York.

To help people understand what this means, we recently made this video. It’s a fun description of not just who we are and our history, but also of where we’re going because we have big plans for the future!

And guiding us throughout our journey is something we call the Face Manifesto. It’s our guiding principles that help frame what we do and why we do it. And it’s all laid out in our second video.

So can you see why I love telling people about Face? We are pioneering the use of social data in qualitative and quantitative research to deliver a holistic view of the consumer. And we have set ourselves a big but simple mission: to help companies be more socially intelligent by helping them to understand and co-create with people at an individual, group and network level.

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Keep up to date with our latest thinking about by signing up to our mailing list here. We send out a newsletter once a month with company news, thoughts, and industry insights.

We believe that businesses need to be socially intelligent in order to adapt to the ever-changing and interactive world of the modern consumer. This requires a new knowledge framework, which our CEO, Andrew Needham, puts forward in his whitepaper “From socially intelligent business to socially intelligent research”. 

Andrew recently published a blog explaining this new framework on the GreenBookBlog, but we wanted to share it here, too. Below you’ll find an excerpt of the blog as well as the full whitepaper

socially intelligent research

Social intelligence is an adaptive, continuous, collaborative and open customer/consumer-driven knowledge framework that sits at the center of a company’s organization like the hub of a bicycle wheel where all marketing and business disciplines feed into and out from the customer/consumer.

Success in the “Pull Economy” means understanding that a number of significant business principles have changed. In a hyper-connected world information flows much faster and more freely. Organisations as a result are subjected to a growing level of collective intelligence and value creation from outside the company’s walls brought on by the increased collaboration of customer/consumers, employees and suppliers in what is now a much larger ecosystem of data, conversation, innovation and participation.

There needs to be a knowledge framework to help companies manage this transformational change and maximise as much value from it in a way that benefits the business and the customer/consumer.

Social Intelligence

We call this social intelligence.

An adaptive, continuous, collaborative and open customer/consumer driven knowledge framework that sits at the centre of a company’s organisation like the hub of a bicycle wheel, where all marketing and business disciplines feed into and out from the customer/consumer.

In this model the empowered customer/consumer is at the heart of everything a company does.

Hub and Spoke Social Intelligence Framework

Alongside the role of the customer/consumer there are two other key ingredients to becoming socially intelligent.

The first is the application of smart technology to help manage the real time flow and exchange of information, creativity and value from within and outside the company’s walls.  The second is a growing army of people who have proficient skills to extract value and meaning from big data.

And this is where socially intelligent research has a big role to play by helping companies have a real time, in depth holistic view of their consumers.  Socially intelligent research combines best in class social media research, on-line qualitative communities, mobile ethnography and co-creation best practices in an integrated way. It is powered by proprietary platforms that have been built by researchers for researchers to deliver robust insight supported by rigorous qualitative processes.

Socially Intelligent Companies Must Embrace The Customer/Consumer

Companies have often spoken about how the customer/consumer is at the heart of their business and more often than not have failed to deliver against this mantra. Success in the pull economy means doing just that at a time when companies feel that it is harder to achieve. There are many examples where this is already happening.

From Open Innovation to Crowd-sourcing

Open innovation and crowd sourcing business models tap into the collective wisdom and creativity of consumers and this has been incredibly disruptive to more traditional approaches. Instead of “not invented here,” the mind-set is shifting to “proudly found elsewhere.”

The most notable case is Proctor & Gamble’s ambition to ensure that over 50% of its innovation is driven from outside the organisation with the set up of its Connect & Develop platform that has secured more than 1,000 partner agreements on innovation.

Further examples: Kickstarter is a U.S website that allows projects to turn to people outside the organisation for funding taking small or large donations from thousands of backers in return for credit or early access to products and services. Coca-Cola used crowd-sourcing to develop new designs for bottle crates in Germany and marketing ideas for Coke Zero in Singapore. GE has crowd-sourced green business ideas under its “eco-magination” challenge.

From Social CRM to Social WOM Communications

Social CRM, where the customer/consumer helps to deal with problems, queries and complaints of other customers/consumers is also being applied to a number of businesses. Telefonica – who launched GiffGaff, “the mobile network run by you” – relies on its customers/consumers to service other customers/consumers as part of its community driven business model.

In the area of communications examples of content generated by consumers and how it is shared is also prevalent. A recent campaign with UK’s Irn Bru showed just how powerful this is – one “superfan”, Rachel, caused Irn Bru’s latest TV advertisement to generate 1.5 million views before it even went live. In the U.S recently one of the most buzz-worthy ads of this year’s Super Bowl wasn’t even a commercial – it was a mere tweet from Oreo during the blackout.

Oreo’s Superbowl Twitter Ad

From on-line communities to faster decision-making processes

Continuous on-line communities where companies can connect their internal employees with customer/consumers, suppliers and partners is another example of where the consumer rules. Through communities such as Burberry World, companies are speeding up cycle times by shortening learning curves, testing new products or ideas with consumers using mockups, computer-generated virtual products, and simulations.

Together with the use of social media this is also helping to fast track the decision making process. In the case of Oreo their ad agency 360i told Buzzfeed that they had gathered Oreo executives together in advance, just in case something in the Super Bowl sparked an advertising idea. When the lights went out they were able to respond to this opportunity immediately with their Twitter ad.

Customers/consumers create value beyond just transactions

The significant shift underpinning all these examples (and there are many more of them) is that customers and consumers seek out interactions with brands that go beyond the merely transactional. This is driving large-scale behaviour change where focus on hyper-personalisation, relevance and customisation are critical.

 - Read the rest of the article at GreenBookBlog.org

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Read the full whitepaper by Andrew below, and sign up for our monthly newsletter for more information on socially intelligent research and how it can work in your industry and business.

I attended the Social Media Week New York “Big Data Goes Social” Panel discussion hosted by Bloomberg on Tuesday, where our very own Francesco D’Orazio, our Chief Innovation Officer and Head of Social Intelligence, gave his thoughts on a number of key questions around the value of big data.

He was accompanied by other distinguished panelists namely Paul Sweeney, Head of Research and Financial Data Analytics at Bloomberg; Michael Nelson, Research and Analytics for Bloomberg Government; Lisa Joy Rosner, CMO at Netbase; and Mark Cooper, Co-Founder of Offer Pop.

There were 4 key themes I took away from the discussion:

Big Data Goes Social Panel

Image by Sherrie Rohde

Trusting Big Data

The first centred around the area of trust. People are still not sure if they can trust social data. Lisa Joy Rosner told an interesting story regarding a yogurt client. Retail data showed the company that the top selling flavour was vanilla, but all the buzz and conversation from social data was telling the business a different story. Pineapple flavour was what customers were getting really excited about yet this was not translating into sales. The reason they established was that in most stores there were not enough pineapple flavoured yogurts stocked so customers would default to vanilla because their favourite flavour was simply unavailable.

Big Data Talent

All the panelists agreed that the data or the technology behind it, each on its own, is not enough to extract real value and meaning to drive business actions. Smart people who can connect the dots and help understand the “why” as well as provide contextual and behavioural insights are vital.

That’s why D’Orazio argued that looking at Big Data from a research POV is important. Having researchers who are technologists and can bring a mix of quantitative and qualitative skills to the table – a combination of the social sciences, anthropology and statistics – is what is needed.

That said finding these types of people is not easy. Nelson pointed out that a recent McKinsey report stated that in the next 4 years there are going to be 140,000 to 190,00 unfilled data scientist jobs. An additional challenge is that there are 1.5 million managers who needed to be re-trained in the area of Big Data so people are able to understand what’s possible and what’s not. Without a basic understanding of statistics, Nelson pointed out that businesses will draw the wrong conclusions from the data and make bad decisions

Big Data Poll

Image by Twitter user @matylda

Making Big Data insights Actionable

Aside from people there were other key points to making sure data-driven insights were actionable. Michael Nelson argued that there needs to be a culture of transparency as well as a culture of “combat” when it comes to big data. Make all the data transparent and available to the whole company and encourage debate and discussion around it.

This tied in with Francesco D’Orazio’s point on decision making. If you really want to derive value and meaning from big data then you need to re-engineer how your company makes decisions based on what the data is telling you. Dashboards delivering live feeds to executives can quickly become redundant if the process of responding quickly to what the data means has not been thought through.

The benefit of researchers who get technology (rather than technology companies trying to do research) is highlighted in the way big data is collected. D’Orazio pointed out that Face’s Pulsar platform doesn’t just track data by keywords now but also by reach, audience and content. Wrapping this with a solid research framework is key to delivering robust and actionable insight.

Privacy and Data Ownership

Unsurprisingly privacy was a hot topic of the debate. Lisa shared some interesting facts from a recent study she had done with JD Power that showed that 32% of consumers had no idea that they were being listened to. The conundrum of the privacy issue around big data was highlighted by the statistic: 48% don’t want to be listened to, but then 58% said they did want to be listened to if they were complaining or needed help.

There was also concern that European law may limit the ability of companies to analyze data in order to personalize their offerings. Transparency was key to solving the privacy debate said Nelson – if I tell you what data I’m collecting and the benefit you get in return for collecting this data about you then you will give me more data.

However D’Orazio felt that this was rarely true – the benefit of big data is with the company not the customer. In this sense he said that a much bigger looming concern was around data ownership. Customers at some point will realise that it is in their interests to control their own data (personal data lockers) and this could have major ramifications on current business models.

A final thought

One final thought that we were left to mull over is preparing ourselves to manage the trend of social data going visual when most technology listening platforms are built around text. In 2013 we are going to need to crack visual mining. Now there’s a challenge!