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Consumer goods and social media: listening and learning from people in today’s connected world

by Caroline Henne , 18.06.2014

Consumer goods brands can make effective use of the conversations people have on the web in their New Product Development and communication strategies. GfK’s Social Media Intelligence (SMI) team has helped many brands optimize concept and product development and creative messages by listening to and learning from social media. Here are two examples.

Revealing new consumer trends by listening to a gigantic focus group

Our client wanted to sense-check an early concept developed by their R&D team for a new product range with consumers. The working title of the range was ‘Grandma’s Recommendation’, a selection of organic laundry products designed specifically for a market where being natural is considered essential rather than a ‘nice to have’.

To assess if there was a market demand for the product range, we began with a product for delicate fabrics including silk – which is notoriously hard to remove stains from. Believing social media to be the perfect place to listen to people’s conversations about the problem of tackling those tricky marks, we set up an SMI project. Using our unique SMI AdHoc approach, we were able to evaluate user-generated conversations on an ‘opportunity to see’ basis in a two-stage project.

First, to assess demand we evaluated how many people would choose to use an organic product, and how many would opt for a commercial chemical formulation for use on delicate fabrics like silk. Here the overall search query for our analysis was not a brand name, but rather something a generic as “stain on silk”. Then we reviewed the home-made recipes people shared on social media.

The research provided a categorical confirmation to the client that there was definitely a demand for the organic laundry product. It also allowed our client to reference the recipes for home-made solutions when creating their own product formula. Not only could we affirm a significant consumer trend and desire for organic laundry products, but we could also give clear approval of the formulation they were considering. An added benefit was that real comments gathered during the project were used to develop messages for both the new product packaging and advertising, saving our client considerable time and cost during the creative development process.

What is interesting about this project is that this particular brand was not active on social media. Instead, social media was used as a gigantic focus group – a way to listen to conversations happening across the web in a technique we have termed ‘quantitative qual research’. By listening to real people exchanging tips, ideas, hints and recipes on the web, we were able to capture extremely valuable information that could be used for new product development, innovation, and communication development.

But what if you want to prove return on investment of your social media strategy?

In a different project we wanted to help a cosmetic brand understand the impact of social media on sales. A study in Germany captured 100,000 make-up related posts. Due to the sharing nature of social media, we identified that the reach of this material was huge – more than 15 million people had the opportunity to read the entries – far more than we would have expected from the number of posts. But what impact was all the online opinion having on people’s actual purchasing behavior in the category, and could we prove ROI?

After combining the results of social media monitoring with our offline Media Efficiency Panel data we discovered that people who had the opportunity to read the posts spent 20% more on cosmetics compared to those who didn’t read them. So here’s the proof of the Return on Investment: the sales uplift far outweighed the investment in the social media campaign.

The research also identified powerful reasons why a consumer goods brand should have a proactive social media strategy. In our study the brand with the most positive comments had the least number of total ‘shares’. Add to this the fact that happy customers are the least likely to share their good opinions and experiences, there is a real opportunity for brands to actively encourage those consumers to share their positive experiences online using a customized social media strategy. This isn’t just the case for considered purchases that involve lots of research such as cars or holidays, but for relatively low value, frequently purchased consumer goods such as in this example of cosmetics.

We know social media is a powerful tool for brands to connect with consumers – as we’ve shown here it can convert people’s engagement with a FMCG category into increased spend, something that is hugely desirable in competitive fast-moving categories. With so much content being shared by consumers across the internet it is far more to brands than a sales accelerator: it can also provide a rich source of ideas, opinions and advice for those brands that listen to inspire product development, pack design and advertising messages and creative.

For more information on SMI please contact Caroline Henne at caroline.henne@gfk.com