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Business Observer Friday, Jul. 11, 2014 7 years ago

Listening to your social media

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How to understand the emotional levers that drive brand value.
by: James R. Contributing Columnist

Social media is a key component in today's marketing mix. By its very nature, the communication in social media is fast and fluid, providing a unique, real-time perspective for gauging brand performance. Unfortunately, most efforts to understand the economic impact of social media are narrow in scope and lack detailed financial insights.

Often research in social media attempts to identify the total volume of commentary and then uses keyword searches to determine if the sentiment is positive, negative or neutral. This approach, while useful, is flawed because there are many things, such as sarcasm, that keyword searches are not equipped to analyze appropriately. The positive, neutral and negative outcomes also do not provide sufficiently rigorous assessment to be prescriptive. They inform us about the nature of the conversation, but do not address the “why.”

Social listening and understanding begins with Social Media Monitoring Analytics. The term refers to the process by which CoreBrand, working in partnership with our colleague, Todd Powers, Ph.D., measures and evaluates social media. The approach involves gathering the relevant conversations about a brand on social media, and then coding the emotional content of the postings using both machine-based algorithms and human coders.

This kind of “social listening” method identifies emotional dimensions as well as the individual emotional reactions to a given brand. This allows a more in-depth study of the nature of the conversation about the brand and the potential impact those conversations can have on it. We are learning about brand-specific messages, and how target audiences are receiving those messages. This approach allows for the understanding of what emotional levers are driving customers as they move through the steps involved in making a purchase.

Norms can be established for the purchase process and this, in turn, helps determine where and how a specific brand succeeds or fails relative to its key competitors. This feedback on both products and their respective categories helps to identify the levers that can be manipulated to optimize the purchase decision journey.

For example, Powers and the Advertising Research Foundation recently examined emotional patterns in the purchase process for packaged goods, automobiles and smartphones. Surprisingly, postings on social media about smartphones were dramatically different from the other two categories.

Buyers of smartphones were much more likely to express negative emotions such as sadness, disgust and anger, both early on in the purchase process and at the conclusion of their purchase. The researchers tracked the source of these negative reactions to resistance to forced upgrades and an inability to operate the “new-fangled” devices,. And this, in turn, led to a series of recommendations about how to market the products and position the brands more effectively.

By identifying how communications and the emotional content of social media influence the brand and impact things such as revenue by target audience or channel, companies can then optimize those communications to maximize their brand's financial performance.

To get to the point of optimizing return on communications investment requires a full examination of the value of the brand along with quantitative research of key targets to identify the strength, direction and position of the brand relative to its peers. These standard benchmarks create a kind of laboratory that allows communications professionals to test ideas through controlled experimentation to examine cause and effect.

This high-level diagnostic, combined with the specific “why” and “what” to do about it provides a unique tool for identifying brand strengths (and weaknesses), using the “social listening” data to find and examine the most relevant conversations taking place among the public.

By combining social listening with the financial measures of brand performance, companies can track — and importantly, manage — the communications investments being made, the nature of the conversation and the impact on the brand. Basically, we can observe and react to what consumers are saying, how it is being received and the financial impact it is having.

For example, financial companies like banks and investment firms have long known that “trust” is an important emotional determinant of brand affinity in their category. But social listening analysis has documented that trust is not necessarily a driving factor in the information gathering and competitive comparison phases of the purchase process, where cognitive assessments carry greater weight in defining buyers' short-list of competitors. It is in the final decision — the actual brand choice — that trust is paramount. Combining the financial and emotional performance data for a brand will inform communications strategies going forward.

Many companies are measuring social media results, brand attributes and brand impact, but they are doing so in isolation. What makes this approach effective is that it ties social listening to a quantitative analysis of the brand and methodologies to identify brand valuation and the resulting financial impact it is having. Social listening is a tool, but it needs to link to the emotional drivers of brand, which in turn need to tie into financial performance to fully capitalize on the promise of social media.

James R. Gregory is founder and CEO of CoreBrand, a global brand strategy, communications and design firm headquartered in New York, with offices in Los Angeles and Tampa. He helps clients develop strategies to improve their corporate brands and profitability. Contact him at [email protected].

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