The lesson for agencies is that our old product (advertising) tells consumers what to expect from the brand—but the real equities are created by experiencing the brand in action.
The good news is that while brands are universal, experience is personal. In a world where the consumer’s perception of brands is that they are increasingly similar, customer experience is an ever more valuable source of differentiation.
As account planners, however, our primary tools of discovery (focus groups, etc.) are designed to help us understand brand imagery, not experience. Experience has one very special characteristic—time—which makes it much more difficult to understand.
For instance, the decision making process for a new car or truck is typically 6-12 months long. Consumers can rarely remember all the stages they went through during that time, and the only reliable way to find out what was involved in their decision, and where to find the opportunities to impact that process with our communications, is to travel through it with them.
The problem is that this kind of ethnographic approach is expensive. A typical study might include 6 to 10 subjects, each paid as much as $500—and that’s just a fraction of the total cost. The process is also extremely time-consuming: Start to finish on an average-sized study customarily takes four to six weeks.
So how can we short-cut the process and surface valuable insights about the kind of experience consumers are looking for — in the kind of compressed time frame we all work in? Here are three thought starters:
1) In the past two-and-a- half years, text-mining software has become available that allows us to analyze what our customers are saying about our brand, especially to people who are not yet users, in chat rooms, news groups, on bulletin boards, etc. This kind of research is almost unique in that the act of observation does not influence the outcome. It is both exploratory and evaluative at the same time.
We begin by harvesting all the conversation strings (sometimes more than one million) that include terms we’re interested in. Then we typically analyze for:
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Content — what kind of conversations is our brand a part of? What are people saying about us?
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Location and breadth of involvement — where are people talking about our brand? Are they
just special interest groups or more broadly based conversations?
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Novice questions and expert answers — what kinds of questions are people asking about us
and what kind of answers are they receiving from those who claim to know?
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Shifting patterns over time — reactions to competitive moves, marketplace events, etc.