Category Archives: Blog

Social Intelligence: Not Just for Social Strategy

At FACE, we’re a hybrid group of “qualies” and data analysts who keep an open mind about what it means to be a researcher in 2014 – how research should happen and where the most valuable information comes from. We’re increasingly incorporating social media intelligence in our work, used either as a primary methodology or a layer of context in qualitative studies. However, we’re aware that some of our colleagues and clients are hesitant to consider social research methodologies.

I’ll get this out of the way upfront: social analysis is not the right fit for every research objective. Yet social is often dismissed simply because clients assume that anything social is not in their jurisdiction. That’s what I want to argue against in this blog post – instead, let’s start thinking of how social media can inform every dimension of brand planning.

Here are some familiar examples of the reasoning behind why social gets cut from budgets or even passed over in favor in of much more expensive approaches:

  • “This data may be interesting, but our brand doesn’t tweet, so social media stuff is not for us”
  • “Looks like you have strong social capabilities, but that’s not really relevant to my team; maybe I’ll put you in touch with our PR department.”
  • “We’ve got a dedicated team working on social marketing. They’re not set up for research, exactly, but I can have them pull any reports I need”

It seems there is a not uncommon perception that social data is exclusively for social strategy: analyze social conversation and sharing to become a better social conversationalist and sharer.

I disagree. In fact, the value of social understanding is far more expansive than that. Incorporating social insight is an exercise in lateral thinking that can make research more potent across the spectrum of strategic planning.

Stanley Pollitt's book 'Pollitt on Planning'

Stanley Pollitt, co-credited with starting the ad agency practice of account planning, had an important take on this theme long before digital social networks were in play:

“The account planner is that member of the agency’s team who is the expert, through background, training, experience, and attitudes, at working with information and getting it used – not just marketing research but all the information available to help solve a client’s advertising problems.”

This perspective is relevant beyond advertising problems. Research must be focused, but focus shouldn’t mean “same old” or one-dimensional, whether that’s traditional focus groups or brand trackers. If your strategic goals are ambitious, your research goals – and methodology – should be too. “…all the information available to help solve a client’s problems.

We’re now living in a world where the subjective emotion we share and the measurable data trail we leave behind are both signs of our humanity. So as a researcher you’ve got to love talking face-to-face with a consumer as well as studying how that person comes to life in a spreadsheet.

Social is a unique stream of information and is there, as Pollitt would suggest, “to get used.” Social data is exciting in that it’s vast, readily available, and relatively cost effective to access. Moreover, social conversation is generally unprompted – a chance to throw away the discussion guide and purely listen. What you’ll hear will inform far more than how to write your next tweet.

Beyond social marketing strategy, here are several thought-starters for how to get smart from social insight and use it across your brand or business, not just for social media strategy.

1. Audience Profiling

  • Segment social users talking about a brand  or topic to learn more about existing customers – or discover potential new target audiences
  • Improve recruitment for subsequent research, e.g. build a smarter screener based on fresh insight into demographic and lifestyle parameters

2. Advertising effectiveness measurement

  • Optimize media spend by detecting regions of brand interest before messaging is in-market
  • Track impact of online or offline advertising by region, based on social reaction (either organic reactions or in response to a call to action, such as a promoted hashtag)
  • Gauge performance of local activations, e.g. in-store events or franchise promotions
  • Assess PR activity such as news editorial coverage and native advertising
Pulsar location map - US by state

Pulsar location maps can show where people are talking about your brand, stores or advertising

3. Understand your online sales funnel

  • Measure links shared to Ecommerce properties to understand where consumers are talking about buying your products or competitors and the category at large
Pulsar most shared Media visualisation  by domain

Pulsar’s Media visualisations analyse the links being shared within a topic of discussion

4. Design Inspiration for products & services

  • Identify consumer-generated content and use it as stimulus for brainstorming for new product development, creative production, packaging design and more
  • Gather unmoderated feedback on a purchase journey or product experience to inform future UX design

Social media allows real-time customer journey feedback

These four options are just a start: there are many other ways to get more creative and more analytical with social data. Studying social conversation provides a window in to consumer mindset and behavior, not just a view of popular chatter. It’s helpful to think about social media by breaking it down to its basics: networks of people sharing opinions, speculating about the future, and reviewing experiences. In that lies true insight for business problems, so there’s no use in being anti-social!

For more ideas for leveraging social data, see Fran D’Orazio’s Future of Social Media research blog post.

Marc Geffen is based in our US office. If you want to discuss how he can help your business in the New Year then send him an email:


How’d you sell New York to New Yorkers? The NYC & Co ‘See Your City’ campaign?

Kate Davids of FACE’s New York office analyses the city tourism board’s latest campaign

Right now, New York City is encouraging New Yorkers to play tourist in their own city. The NYC & Company ‘See Your City’ campaign is positioning a selection of neighborhoods in each borough as a tourism destination for locals in an effort to get local New Yorkers to explore more (and spend more) in different parts of the city.

While I do think there is no city better to play tourist in, I don’t think it is quite that easy.

Of course, New Yorkers do love to explore their city. Anyone who lives in New York will tell you there is a constant search for a new bar, restaurant, shop or show. Everyone likes to discover something new. But is this tourism? I don’t think so, and I think that positioning this push for locals to explore New York as tourism is not the best way to encourage local New Yorkers to travel to Staten Island.

In this blog post I’ll explore why – and try to imagine what the NYC & Co. ‘See Your City’ campaign could have done differently.

What’s the motivation to do ‘tourist’ things, anyway?

Whether it is standing on line, paying higher prices, or just taking time out to go gawk at the sites, playing tourist requires effort and it’s something we have to decide to do.

Being a tourist, of course, means more than just going to look at a monument. Being a tourist usually means traveling, which has a whole host of benefits for the traveler. This Quora thread lists off quite a few of them, but a few themes seem to emerge from the user responses:

  • It is an escape: A tourist has the opportunity to distance herself from her everyday life. This provides an opportunity for the traveler to re-center herself, figure out what’s important, who she is. It’s almost existential, in a way.
  • It displays other ways of life: Whether that is seeing how New Yorkers bustle everywhere or how residents of Phoenix, AZ enjoy a good saunter through a mall, , travel helps tourists broaden their outlooks and see the world from another point of view. Some say it is about feeling more connected to the rest of humanity, seeing what we have in common. To others it’s about seeing our differences within the rich patchwork of sensorial experiences the world has to offer.
  • It is exciting: Who can deny that travel keeps you on your toes? A tourist becomes more aware of what is going on around her. She can’t just float along when in a strange place, she has to keep her eyes and ears open. It’s a bit of an adrenaline rush!

Why do locals not do the things tourists do?

The NYC & Co. ‘See Your City’ campaign, of course, is not asking tourists to visit these neighborhoods. It’s asking New York locals to be tourists in their own city. Which makes me wonder, why aren’t locals already doing touristy things in their cities?

I turned my Facebook friends into a bit of a focus group, asking them, “Why do locals not do the things tourists do – even when they are cool? Sometimes it seems that tourists see more of our cities than the locals do! Why is that?” My friends live in a variety of places, from Phoenix to New York. Here’s what they had to say:

“Because you can do it at any time, why make a special trip out of it? Also, many of things that we think of tourists doing become so familiar that we feel we do them anyway (like passing the ruins in downtown phoenix), we live with them everyday anyway.” – Joe D.

“I definitely think that tourists do things that are cool, but, frankly, when will we do them? In addition, a lot of “attractions” are overpriced, I would rather not do it here, and do it another location.” – Stephanie R.

“Tourists plan everything around seeing these things, but when you live somewhere it’s easy to say “I’ll get around to it” and then you find yourself moving and realize all the things you missed. But how important are those things really?” – Michelle W.

So, from time limitations to over-familiarity, locals seem to have a different point of view of their cities’ attractions. Granted, the NYC & Company campaign is promoting destinations not typically associated with tourists – most tourists don’t even make it to Staten Island – but these two themes are still relevant. Locals are busy living their lives, which means they have less time to explore out of the way neighborhoods, often putting such places on the back burner until some “later time.” That, surely, is the barrier that a ‘locals’ travel campaign would need to tackle.

“See Your City” doesn’t address why locals aren’t doing these things already

Take a look at the campaign microsite. Sure, they call Van Cortlandt Park “where savvy New Yorkers escape,” but for the most part, it reads like what it is – a travel guide. It makes the destinations feel exciting, interesting, and like an escape, hitting all those high notes that tourists love about travel. I don’t know if this type of presentation will make these destinations feel like an exciting escape to a local New Yorker, but it is clear that the campaign is trying.

NYCgo pic 2

It’s not hard to see why a foodie like me really wants to go to Arthur Avenue, but finding the time to do so is another matter. (

But, it doesn’t respond to why New Yorkers aren’t doing these things already. I’ve known about Arthur Avenue (the Bronx’s Little Italy) and the Staten Island Greenbelt for years, but I still haven’t gone, and while this campaign is reminding me of why I do want to go to these locations, I don’t know if it is motivating me to finally get on a train and go. Procrastination and an already busy life are still barriers to exploration, and the campaign isn’t dealing with them.

I’ve also been through Dumbo and Hell’s Kitchen before, though I haven’t explored them in the way this campaign suggests I do. As my Facebook friend Joe D. said, I am familiar enough with the areas that I feel I’ve done the exploration already, even though I haven’t gone into the churches or visited the bakeries. Those neighborhoods are part of the backdrop of my life. I don’t know if they are worth a special trip for me.

But New Yorkers do love to explore their city…

….The campaign just needs to give us the tools and some incentive to go.

Whether it’s checking out a list of cool restaurants in Time Out or signing up for a walking tour (which local New Yorkers love to do, by the way), New Yorkers love to explore, try new things, and generally get out. Our city is always changing around us, and, frankly, our apartments tend to be tiny and cramped, adding extra incentive to get out of the house.

NYCgo pic 3

Like this Urban Oyster Tour group on a Brownstone Brooklyn tour. Their tours are designed specifically for locals. (

So this campaign has great potential. Tapping into the audience of local New Yorkers is a great move, but rather than focusing on how “For the world, it’s the trip of a lifetime. For you, it’s a subway ride away”, focus instead on helping New Yorkers overcome the barriers to being a “local tourist.”

We know we live in a great city, and the desire to see it is there. We just need some tools to get us started. Here are a few ideas for how this campaign can address the barriers of local tourism:

  1. Partner with some local walking tour companies to make exploring a neighborhood feel more manageable, less like an all-day activity and more like a fun weekend afternoon?
  2. Help New Yorkers see familiar neighborhoods as more interesting by talking about the hidden secrets and histories of the areas. We love finding hidden things!
  3. Highlight local events and festivals to help us find a reason to go out to those neighborhoods now rather than later. We hate missing a party, and once you get us to go once, you can probably get us to come back to try that cute restaurant on the corner we saw but didn’t have a chance to try.
  4. Suggest itineraries and other tools to help make “playing tourist” feel less daunting and time consuming. The easier it is, the more likely people will do it, after all.
  5. Focus on the new and the changing. Perhaps give each neighborhood a specific page with updates on new restaurants or galleries. This could work particularly well for trendy locales like Long Island City or neighborhoods that are changing quickly, like Harlem.
  6. Suggest occasions, helping get around that procrastination barrier. Rather than listing off all the bars in Hell’s Kitchen, how about give us a list of top Happy Hours for the after work crowd?

At the moment the campaign suggests locations and makes them sound interesting and fun, but to really be the success I think it could be, it needs to give New Yorkers tools like these to make being a tourist in our own city easier and more interesting, overcoming the barriers we currently face.

If you would like to find out how Kate can help you achieve a great campaign, or you’d just like more insightful tips on exploring New York City, send her an email:

Why Big Data is a human problem, not a technology one

At the beginning of October our VP of Products Francesco D’Orazio hosted a talk at the Internet & Mobile World conference in Romania. This event was focused highly on the digital transformation of businesses, aiming to highlight the online and mobile challenges they are faced with. Leading experts from the technology world gathered to share their thoughts on what’s driving forward the industry and how this translates to business.

“Big data” has been around for a few years now but for every hundred people talking about it there’s probably only one actually doing it. As a result Big Data has become the preferred vehicle for inflated expectations and misguided strategy.

As always, the seed of the issue is in the expression itself. Big Data is not so much about a quality of the data or the tools to mine it, it’s about a new approach to product, policy or business strategy design. And that’s way harder and trickier to implement than any new technology stack.

In Fran’s talk from the Internet & Mobile World, he looks at where Big Data is going, what are the real opportunities, limitations and dangers and what we can do to stop talking about it and start doing it today.

Please see below if you want to have a closer look at the slides Fran used in his presentation:

If you want to learn more about how social data can positively impact your company, get in touch by emailing:

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

How To Succeed in the Business of Products

Brands are changing.

Perceptions of a brand are increasingly measured on whether they deliver against the product and service expectations we have for them. Online resources give consumers vastly better product information – from peer reviews to price comparison sites – meaning that their purchase decision-making can become a much more rational assessment of real value (Simonsen & Rosen, 2014 ) And apps such as Uber – or more broadly ‘Uberfication ’, the growing sector of on-demand mobile service provision – have created new and much higher expectations for how easy and frictionless a service can be.

So what a brand does via its products and services is now much more important to customers than what it says.

Marketing has to change radically – but customer understanding is only more essential. So here are some initial first steps to building great products that your customers will want to use.


Start with the customer

Today’s empowered, social, networked customers are not just “always on” but “on demand” – hence the need for companies to put them at the heart of everything they do. Staying close to customers and understanding their needs in real-time is critical to delivering winning products and services.

Within this, as Alex Osterwalder sets out in his book ‘Value Proposition Design’, it is important to understand:

  • what CUSTOMER JOBS they are trying to do
  • the GAINS – the outcomes customers want to achieve or the concrete benefits they are seeking
  • and the PAINS – the bad outcomes, risks and obstacles related to the customer jobs.

Ranking these three elements in terms of priority is the first step to ensuring that you focus on those needs that the most of your customers care the most about. 

Ensuring “Fit” with your valuation proposition

The flip side to understanding your customer profile is ensuring that there is a fit with your value proposition.

Start by creating a value map of how your product/service helps customers alleviate pains and create gains, then rank these by importance, says Osterwalder. You achieve “fit” when customers get excited about your value proposition because it addresses important jobs, alleviates extreme pains and creates essential gains that customers care about the most. Achieving this fit is hard to find and maintain so having a rigorous process to ensure this is essential.

According to Des Traynor from Intercom, here are 10 important questions and principles to keep in mind when thinking about your product road map:

  1. Does it fit your product vision?
  2. Are you improving or innovating an existing feature in your product?
  3. Are you focusing on the areas that get the job done better by 20-30%?
  4. Are you getting more people to use the product and to do so more often?
  5. Will the feature matter in 5 years?
  6. Focus on the things that don’t change
  7. Does it benefit all customers not just a few? Sometimes new features only divide existing usage
  8. Watch out for side effects
  9. If a feature takes off can you afford it?
  10. If you can’t do it well, it’s not a good feature

Integrating lean start up principles

Erik Ries and Steve Blank’s work on the ‘lean startup’ was inspired by ideas of ‘lean production’ developed by Toyota, but pulls them from manufacturing into the world of consumer product and service design. They propose a 3-fold model:

  1. Hypothesise how you product will create value for its users
  2. Listen to users: Get feedback on every aspect of your product & business model & revise your assumptions
  3. Practice ‘agile development’ by developing incrementally and iteratively

[Source: ‘Why The Lean Startup Changes Everything’, Steve Blank, HBR May 2013]

Blank’s process eliminates slack and uncertainty from product development by continuously building, testing and learning in an iterative process. This approach is key to providing evidence that your customers care about how your products and services kill pains and create gains. Building a range of hypotheses and different experiments to test them in regard to your value proposition is essential to reducing risk and uncertainty and increasing the likely success of the product launch.

At FACE our inverted co-creation model is one of the ways in which we help brands do all of the above with rigour and speed, building the customer’s needs into every step of the product development process.

Inverted Co-creation funnel

Embracing social technology and software

Finally, in all of this social technology and software has a huge role to play in the “Business of Products”. Developing products that can help brands and companies meet the demands and expectations of today’s customer cannot be done without a deep understanding of technology.

As Steve Denning wrote on in his article entitled “Why Software is eating the World (a title taken from Marc Andreessen’s own article by the same name in 2011): “All Companies are now software companies,” and for most of them, “failure to acquire digital agility will be an existential threat and so, establishing digital agility has become in effect a strategic necessity.”

Software is not just disrupting traditional business models by helping new entrants meet customer needs better and faster – it is helping the new entrants to re-define them. As I indicated at the start of this post by mentioning “Uberification”, what Uber shows is that even so-called ‘offline’ products and services (such as taxis) need to become apps, and are defined by the digital user experience they offer.

At FACE we don’t just advise companies on product development. We’re doing it ourselves with the development and scaling of Pulsar, our social data intelligence platform.  We have fused software engineers and data scientists together with own innovation and research expertise to revolutionise social media research. We are seeing first hand what it takes to apply the “business of products” and are now focusing on delivering the next stage “the business of platforms”.

That, though, is a topic for another blog!

If you would like to find out how we can help your company innovate, then please get in touch by emailing: