My recent post on how monitoring changes the market research model in social media generated some really thoughtful responses from major players in social media marketing (read the comments). As I stated there, I believe market research is in transition because of our ability to observe and listen to market conversations without overtly influencing those conversations before they take place. You might define this as observed vs. acquired research.
Acquired research involves building a structured environment and inviting participation. This environment might be a survey, a focus group, a social network or even a true environment like a store design. Apple built multiple prototypes of full scale Apple Stores in a warehouse and then tested response to them:
“One of the best pieces of advice Mickey ever gave us was to go rent a warehouse and build a prototype of a store, and not, you know, just design it, go build 20 of them, then discover it didn’t work,” says Jobs. In other words, design it as you would a product. Apple Store Version 0.0 took shape in a warehouse near the Apple campus. “Ron and I had a store all designed,” says Jobs, when they were stopped by an insight: The computer was evolving from a simple productivity tool to a “hub” for video, photography, music, information, and so forth. The sale, then, was less about the machine than what you could do with it. But looking at their store, they winced. The hardware was laid out by product category - in other words, by how the company was organized internally, not by how a customer might actually want to buy things. “We were like, ‘Oh, God, we’re screwed!’” says Jobs.”
- from Kottke
The result was a radical rethinking of the entire retail experience. They engage customers with specific questions as soon you enter because they learned that customers have a fairly small set of reasons for coming. Specialized employees wear different colored clothing to indicate that they are greeters, ‘Geniuses’ or managers. Cash registers and conventional checkouts are eliminated, receipts are emailed, etc. And they have the highest revenue per square foot of any retail chain. Acquired research works if it is well-designed.
One lesson learned from this and mentioned by the commenters on the other post is that you can’t always predict behavior or results even in a controlled situation- people will do their own thing and that’s where a lot of the value lies. Which takes us to observed research, in this example (social media), observed in the wild.
Monitoring enables us to build an anonymous observation post where we can listen in on conversations, track trends, define sentiment and demographics and even learn how authoritative the speaker is. We can do this on a global basis across a wide variety of media that is extremely unstructured- some of these are ‘man on the street’ conversations. This is a form of research that simply did not exist until recently and most of us are only at the early stages of understanding how to use it.