In this issue of our #highondata series, Dave Sheluga, Director of Consumer Insights at Ardent Mills, discusses how social media analytics have changed marketers’ understanding of their customers, and their ability to shape the future of the CPG industry.
About two years ago, we saw an increase in demand for using social media data to enhance understanding of trends seen in secondary research data. What were the benefits marketers saw in doing this?
The marketplace around consumer packaged goods changed abruptly in early 2011. Marketers found that traditional marketing tools that served them well for 40 years were no longer working so well. And market researchers discovered the need to view the marketplace more broadly. They were too focused on current, core consumers. Social media and internet analytics allowed savvy marketers and researchers to discover and learn quickly in a disrupted marketplace.
There seems to be a natural evolution from there to using social media data as a primary tool to get a granular understanding of consumers. What is the biggest impact social media data has had on Ardent Mill’s understanding of consumer insights?
We’ve abandoned focus groups, and all but abandoned traditional surveys. Focus groups are a slow and
expensive way to discover and explore. And surveys often require you to know the answers you are looking
for, before you run the survey. With social media data, you can quickly explore topics and discover many
patterns, trends, and insights, without predetermining what you are looking for. The biggest impact is helping
us see what was previously unseen.
How has this understanding helped in product innovation?
Internet analytics has helped us see trends two to three years into the future. We saw the onset of enlightened eating and purity in foods as early as 2009, and made significant moves into organic wheat. We are now innovating with heirloom, ancient, and artisan wheats that we predict will be in demand 2 to 3 years from now. Today, there is little awareness of heirloom and artisan wheats, even among leading edge consumers and product innovators. Internet analytics show us that all the trends are in place for these heirloom and artisan wheats.
What are some of the challenges of working with insights from social media?
Here’s the challenge. We want to know the future, but we don’t know what it looks like. The insights from internet analytics come very close to showing us the future, but our inherent human doubts cloud the picture. You need to have your own very broad-based knowledge of many marketplace trends – social, emotional, demographic, economic, political and technological – to reduce doubt and increase faith in the internet analytics. I know that when I’ve shared insights from my internet analytics work, I’ve found it hard to convince people who don’t have a broad view of the marketplace.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen marketers or market researchers
make when deriving insights from internet analytics?
The biggest mistake is looking for an easy answer, a simple yes-no answer. The successful business person
views these insights as learnings; not pat answers. New learning builds upon prior learning. It’s not one-stop
You may also find it interesting to read how analytics is aiding innovation in the CPG & Retail Industries.