All posts by Job Muscroft

Social Intelligence Beyond Monitoring #2: Innovating a new mobile payment product

Welcome to the second edition of our blog series on Social Intelligence Beyond Monitoring, from FACE CEO Job Muscroft

In the second blog in this series I want to look at use cases for social media research which go beyond counting mentions of brands and consumer sentiment. Companies can find big, untapped sources of value if they invest in what we call socially intelligent research. What’s that? It’s research that goes beyond merely narrating what’s happening in social media to answer  the real questions ‘Why?’ and ‘What should we do about it?’  With this deeper level of insight, social media can do a lot more than simply monitor discussion.

Last month I talked about how social media intelligence can guide brand positioning; this month, product innovation.

The Brief

A large global financial services brand with a leading position in the credit card market was looking to develop a new proposition in the emerging area of mobile payment. They were interested in exploring peer-to-peer payments – don’t think Bitcoin decentralised networks (it was before that time!) but simply “consumer-to-consumer” payment between friends and family.

Using mobile phone at dinner table


What we did

We recognised that payment generates high levels of conversation amongst those communities that need to make regular payments such as students, small traders and families.  So we started wide by listening to discussion about the whole category of sending and receiving money. From this we identified thousands of relevant conversations, from which we identified 10 major pain points.

One notable behaviour was the large numbers of conversations started by people checking with their friend or family member that the payment had actually arrived. This showed people using peer-to-peer payment need validation and confirmation built into the systems so they know for sure when the payment has been made and received. An app can’t just offer financial transfer but needs to have a communication layer as well.

The next stage of the project was a co-creation workshop where we used the 10 painpoint areas to ideate the key features of the new P2P product with the target market. Using rapid prototyping methods, we develop a mobile prototype of potential app functionalities,  which we tested with a larger number of consumers for a further two weeks to refine the key product features.

An example of another P2P mobile payment product, Snapcash

An example of another P2P mobile payment product, Snapcash

Why this worked

The client found this use of social intelligence at the beginning of the innovation process had 4 main benefits. This method…

  1. Helped them quickly root ideation in strong observable and quantifiable global needs
  2. Gave the stakeholder team great confidence that the ideas they were generating would solve a real consumer need from the scale and robustness of the data from social intelligence, more than they felt they got from traditional small-scale ethnographic research
  3. Confirmed and brought to life the key target audience for the product
  4. Enabled the client to move to prototyping within four weeks, which is two thirds faster than their usual innovation approach

At FACE we call this ‘augmented research‘, tying together the best of social and qual and emerging and established research methods to get brands closer to their customers – and ultimately making better business decisions.

In the next blog in this series I will be highlighting how we can use social intelligence to help improve a live marketing campaign. Stay tuned!

Connect with Job on LinkedIn or Twitter, or get in touch by email:

Social Intelligence Beyond Monitoring: #1 Brand Positioning

Job Muscroft FACE MDWelcome to our new blog series on Social Intelligence Beyond Monitoring, from FACE MD Job Muscroft. In this series, Job will be showing how brands can get high-value insights from social media listening – first up, Brand Positioning.


There are now hundreds of social media monitoring tools on the market that allow you to quickly and easily mine thousands of conversations about brands and topics you are interested in learning about. In fact, as social listening has become an established part of brand health monitoring, most brands now subscribe to a platform and use key word search strategies to conduct basic monitoring around 2 main use cases:

  1. Measure how visible a brand is in comparison to its competitors.
  2. Track sentiment of customers likes and dislike about brand/products.

This type of monitoring is usually conducted by agencies on behalf of brands and feeds into the development of creative and comms strategies. This, in a world where digital and social advertising spend is now overtaking traditional spend, is crucial.

In this series of blogs I want to look at the emerging use cases for social intelligence which go beyond counting mentions of brands and quantifying consumer sentiment. I want to and talk about where the big value lies for companies who invest in building the capabilities of analysts and research teams to look at social data strategically – to go beyond saying what happened  to work out why, and what to do about it.

Social Intelligence for Brand Positioning


A large US female haircare brand with a strong legacy in the market is facing the reality that consumer perception has changed quickly over the last 2 years. It’s is looking to strengthen its brand positioning and identify new opportunities to engage with women.

Pinterest hair section

What we did

Our approach was informed by the fact that Haircare is a highly emotional category and generates high levels of conversation amongst women online. This social media discussion is highly visual who often share images within their networks in order to find the right solution for their hair.

  1. Started wide by listening to the whole category and identified a community of women driving the conversation around this product range and the most common articulated haircare needs
  2. Focused the next stage of the project on this active community by creating a social panel of women who we listened to for a month to give us insight into their lives beyond their care hair needs
  3. Aside from text analytics we spent time understanding the thousands of haircare images shared on Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr and Twitter as an invaluable source of visual insight
  4. Workshop with client team to download insights and build positioning platforms together
Why this worked

The client stakeholder group found this approach to their challenge worked for them as it helped them to get closer to their consumers’ mindset than more traditional research groups or surveys. It additionally as it gave them strategic insights about both individual and group behaviour in the haircare market: it’s not just about one-to-one communication with your customer, but understanding how she shares with her friends.

  • Identified and brought to life a community of women that the brand needs to tap into if they are to reignite an connection with today’s consumers in this category.
  • Most importantly, it brough to to life the emotional struggles surrounding their ideals of beauty
  • Showed the specific language and aesthetic imagery that constructs the bonds within this community that can feed directly into more authentic creative executions
  • Gave insight into both individual and group behaviour in the haircare market: it’s not just about one-to-one communication with your customer, but understanding how she shares with her friends.
  • Highlighted the opportunities for the brand to position itself to engage the widest possible audience without alienating sub-communities

In the next blog in this series I will be highlighting how we can use social intelligence to help innovate products.

Connect with Job on LinkedIn or Twitter, or get in touch by email:

How We Became A Software Company: 5 steps to the birth of Pulsar

“We all need to become software companies!” That’s the message from John C McCarthy in his latest Forrester Research report which in a nutshell proposes that software is a central driver of brand and financial growth.

In his post earlier this week, our CEO Andrew Needham discussed the “business of products” and how to build them, touching upon ‘Lean Startup’ methods and Marc Andreesen’s quote that “all companies are now software companies”.

The big question you are left with is how the heck do you become a software company?

At FACE, we’re now a software company (as well as a research & innovation firm). Many of you reading this will have followed our journey over the past 5 years, culminating in the 2013 launch of Pulsar, a SAAS (software as a service) social data intelligence tool.

In this blog post, I want to share how we did this.

Why? As an innovation consultancy, we’re advising brands every day on how to build products and services. Yet unlike almost every other company in this space, and even many product design firms, we have first hand experience of building products ourselves – one that’s succeeded at scale, growing seven-figure sales revenues in its first year. The story of how we built Pulsar is inscribed deep in the DNA of what FACE is as a brand, and it’s a story we want to tell much more powerfully going into 2015.

Pulsar Social Data Intelligence-01 (1)

Pulsar social media monitoring platform Bundle data visualisation

So here’s the first installment: 5 ways we turned ourselves into software thinkers.

1. We challenged ourselves to do our jobs better 

As researchers with a passion for technology we were early users of social analytic software and we quickly learnt the limitations of the tools in the market. As part of a research innovation exercise, the team led by Francesco D’Orazio identified the key areas where we had to develop manual workarounds on client projects such as topic, network and audience analysis. A lightbulb went off when we looked at the results, which showed we could both reduce the amount of time spent on analytics and improve the quality of our work if we could automate these steps. Then we realised that no tool was offering this…

2. We became obsessed with other people’s jobs

We then looked outside of our company and our own jobs as researchers, and set about evaluating which other jobs could be improved by a tool that could automate these analyses. It was a long list: social media marketing, PR, brand management, corporate relations, advertising agencies, financial forecasting, media planning…And so on. It started to look like a viable market opportunity.

3. We started to build 

Looking outside and seeing the opportunity to improve jobs across so many industries gave us the confidence to start the pilot build of tour own social analytics product. For 18 months we built Pulsar with a small budget and team, working all the time with our clients to pilot a wide range of research projects to understand needs, features and use cases. Without having a research team in house who served as ‘internal customers’, this “listen to your users” process would have been much harder and much less powerful. To our delight, after 18 months, a lot of hard work and development, we had happy clients, happy researchers and most importantly a working product prototype – which we named Pulsar.

4. We thought BIG…

In the summer of 2012 we were so excited by the prototype of Pulsar that we started to think big. What if we scaled up the product? What if we could sell this to other companies and work with them on an ongoing basis?, What if we could sell this to lots of people all over the world doing lots of jobs? We then developed a plan to turn Pulsar into a leading platform for social intelligence. In 2013 we rolled out our big thinking by creating new teams in the company under the Pulsar brand: product, development, sales, marketing and account management. Now we really were a software company.

5. …But fought to stay Agile

After 18 months of launching Pulsar and hundreds of clients later what we have learnt about being a software company? It’s really incredibly simple: to win and keep customers as a software business, you have to be obsessed about how you can make your customers’ jobs better – and you have to keep innovating. Our development team follow Agile ‘scrum’ methodology, working on a rapid response development cycle where every aspect of development — requirements, design, and so on — is continually revisited and recalibrated to ensure it’s both deliverable and meets customer needs.

Agile software development principles

Principles of Agile software development

But it becomes something we’ve embraced deeper into the business too.

We’re developing continuous delivery research models, delivering social insights not just through big category landscape reports but also monthly newsletters & the Pulsar dashboard itself.

We passionately believe that “business people and developers” – that is, clients and customers, brands and consumers – have to work together to create products of value, and that’s why we still champion co-creation.

And our version of “working software” is actionable, direct recommendations that provide very specific guidance for what to do and how to change your product or brand.

So that’s how we built Pulsar – and changed ourselves as a research business in the process.

If you’d like to talk further about how we can change your business, whether that’s service design or new product development or just a difficult problem you need to solve – send me an email:

Previous post: Andrew Needham on How to Succeed in the Business of Products

Humanising Brands: The role of market research in 2014

In the past 12 months I have seen a lot of people in advertising start to talk about the need for brands to open up and start to build relationships:

 “We can hypothesize that perhaps the key to brands succeeding in this new world is to mimic a human relationship as closely as possible with consumers”
[Edelman's new "brandshare" model]

“As companies become more digital and equipped with advanced marketing analytic tools that allow them to know and predict consumers’ behavior even better than consumers themselves, they need to be more human as well. It’s time to shift the paradigm. Brands need to not only connect directly with their fans but also rethink the concept of brand ownership. Brands can be owned by both the company and the community of customers, fans, and followers that rallies around them.”
[John Windsor of Havas & crowdsourcing agency Victor & Spoils, writing in Harvard Business Review]

And Clay Shirky was talking about “humanising brands” as far back as 2008.

Image by Flickr User Steven Shorrock

What’s this all about? It’s recognising a need for brands to build a dialogue with customers, listening as much as talking – and talking one-to-one as well as broadcasting. It’s about recognising that in the digital landscape, consumers aren’t just “little people” but can be peers and influence leaders – and so brands need to earn the respect of powerful brand evangelists who will shout from a mountain top how wonderful you and your brand really are.

But how do you do this? The journey of humanising brands goes beyond social media tactics and good community management. No – at FACE, we’d argue that brands needs to fundamentally change their behaviour and really put the customer at the heart of what they do.

Nicola Green, Director of communications and reputation at O2, expresses this well:

“I truly believe that brands should treat their social-media conversations like their real-world conversations – it’s all about understanding your audience, engaging with them in a human way and being consistent. Take the time to get to know your social community and build a rapport; you’ll learn what resonates with them and where the lines are in the sand. You’ll also learn what your audience expects from you – which, more often than not, can be swift customer service when something goes wrong.”
[Source: Marketing Magazine]

In 2014 I believe we are going to see more forward thinking companies adopt the strategy of humanising their brands in 3 key areas. This will open up big opportunities for the market research industry:

1. Develop a ‘listen first’ culture

Brands will demonstrate an authentic desire to listen and respond to people’s needs in real time by rolling out social listening solutions across customer service, research, marketing, product, operations, and HR. This type of active listening is the foundation of building meaningful relationships.

Brands need an objective market research partner to help develop select vendors and set the key benchmarks and metrics that will underpin the listening programme. They also need help to interpret the huge amounts of qualitative data they will be generating to support stakeholders across the business with faster decision making.

Yes, we said qualitative data. This is the value that market research can offer above the typical technology-led, dashboard-based social listening solutions that lead the market at present. It’s about going beyond volume and sentiment, and focusing on people and their needs.

2. Co-create

In 2014 we’ll see an increasing use of co-creation with customers and external experts. This will be carried out by R&D and marketing/products teams, and  to develop both new product innovations and communications. This gives people more personalised experiences that can create a stronger bond between the individual and the brand.

To run strategic co-creation programmes requires world class facilitation and moderation skills to manage interactions between large groups of internal and external partners. Arguably the more important role market research can play here is as the architect of these type of initiatives who ultimately can navigate objectively the politics of companies, and deliver outputs that meet the brief.

3. Agile Communications

All good brands are now publishers, producing content across a huge number of touchpoints. And they’re learning that brand conversations, meanings and needs evolve very quickly. To maximise the opportunity that real time communication offers, companies will be busy building agile CRM  & publishing teams who will be responsible for engaging people with relevant information and high quality, timely content that will delight customers.

To support this type of comms team requires continual input from consumers in the creative process to establish what’s relevant, what’s perceived as high quality, and what’s most interesting and shareable. This means that market research can play a role if the research is fast enough. Creative development needs to become more agile – and in 2014 we’ll see this roll out further. New models for content creation are starting to emerge where consumer communities are being consulted in realtime as an extension of the marketing team to ensure that what is being published will hit the mark.


We’ll no doubt be blogging more about each of these themes in 2014!

Meanwhile, for more about how humanising brands will open up new opportunities for research take a look at these recent articles from across the FACE team:

Building a listening programme:

Innovating co-creation:

On agile communictions:



3 new use cases for social data in research

With 1.7 billion people using social media globally, social media communication is now undeniably a mainstream activity. Tapping into this, there is now a healthy industry dedicated to tracking brand reputation using simple keyword-based platforms. As researchers, we should be asking ourselves how we can harness insights from this huge source of qualitative data to help our clients understand people and their needs better.

As both a social media and a qualitative research agency, this is something we at FACE are always thinking about. And we thought it was time to share more. So here are 3 use cases that go beyond brand tracking where social data is increasingly being used to answer research briefs.

1. Problem Tracking for Innovation

When you’re thinking innovation, asking people what products & services they want to see has an obvious drawback: these things don’t exist! So people find them hard to describe.

Image by Flickr User Jason Bolonski

You can often learn more from what listening to what people don’t want, or what they hate than asking them what they do want. And the advantage of social is that you don’t just tap into the dislikes of 15-20 people in an online community – but potentially 15-20,000 responses in social media discussion.

Using a skilled keyword search strategy you can isolate conversations around product and service discussions in most categories. In the past year we have worked on numerous innovation projects where social data has been used early in the process to identify consumer needs.

A good example is one of our haircare clients who have been tracking how women talk about their hair frustrations across 6 markets. From this our analysts have dug out unmet needs – and just as importantly, a detailed understanding of how those needs are expressed in consumer language.

Using social data in this way combined with strong qualitative analysis has helped this client uncover insights in a matter of days and at a fraction of the cost of their usual international group methodology.

We’ve also used social media to identify needs in a project for Nokia.

2. Social panels for consumer understanding and profiling

Social listening can go beyond tracking keywords and is increasingly focused on tracking specific groups of people’s conversations in what we describe as social panels.

Image by Flickr User Deb Nystrom

With more sophisticated social research platforms such as Pulsar you can identify discrete groups of people such as brand followers, bloggers, mums, tech experts in fact the list is endless.

We are currently working with a major UK retailer to track groups of their customer conversations to identify opportunity areas for the development of more personalised shopping experiences.

Social data helps to profile customer with a richer layer of behavioural and qual data. When this is combined with existing data sets it gives clients powerful insights on a scale – and timeliness – that is impossible to achieve with other types of research.

For an example, take a loot at this previous project we’ve done, profiling a brand’s audience with @O2.

3. Content tracking for creative development

Lots of media spend has moved to social media in the past few years, and brands understand that they need to evolve to become creators and publishers if they are going to engage people in social. This means that developing compelling content and intelligent seeding strategies is crucial to achieve ROI on this media spend.


Clicks and impressions tell some of the story, but seeing how content is shared and is talked about is crucial to understanding how stuff spreads successfully.

We have been working with Twitter UK over the past year using advanced network analysis to help them demonstrate to advertisers the dynamics of how to create compelling content. This type of behavioural social tracking is a necessity to conduct research in the area of content development as it is the only way to get the full picture of how and why things spread amongst online communities.


Want to learn more about how social data can help you spread your content? Join our Viral Video Webinar, October 23rd at 4 pm BST/11 am EST to see how 4 viral videos were passed around the web – and what you can learn from them.