Listen, Learn, and Lead: Market Research & Communications Strategy in the Social Media Age

By Communications, Marketing

John Herrmann

The following is a guest post by our research partner, John Herrmann, Sr. Associate, metro tribal.[i]

“If you’re not confused, you’re not paying attention.” Tom Peters

“Great communication depends on two simple skills—context, which attunes a leader to the same frequency as his or her audience, and delivery, which allows a leader to phrase messages in a language the audience can understand.” John Maxwell

One of the striking things about this year’s presidential election is how difficult it has been for the challenger, Mitt Romney, to create a compelling and consistent narrative for his campaign. While it may be premature to call the election or fairly judge the candidates’ performances, it is not too early to conclude that Mr. Romney and his team have fared poorly in the social media arena. Despite record-breaking spending on traditional advertising, the Romney campaign has been dragged down by grainy YouTube videos and other viral messaging that relentlessly undermined and diverted attention from the candidate’s careful attempts to brand himself.

Regardless of the election’s outcome or how one feels about it, Romney’s struggles show clearly how hard it is for anyone — regardless of wealth, position, or other advantages — to control their own public identity in our competitive, socially interconnected world. And though most of us don’t operate under the extreme pressure of a Presidential contest, thoughtful business owners, executives, and other leaders should be worried that their organization’s image, reputation, and very viability may hinge on ideas and images that float uncontrolled on the wireless waves of today’s world-wide web. As Tom Peters suggests, if you’re feeling safe in this business climate, then you probably don’t understand it.

So given that it’s increasingly hard to control the information circulating about your brand or company, how can you increase the odds that others’ stories about you will enhance rather than diminish your reputation? First, recognize that it’s more important than ever for leaders to know and really understand the people they are trying to lead, whether employees, customers, voters, donors, or other followers. It’s not enough to know who buys what you’re selling but why they do; what your product or service means in the broader context of their lives and why they prefer it over the alternatives. You need to look at yourself as your customer sees you, and show that what matters to them also matters to you. If you prove to be a loyal servant to your followers’ values and priorities, they will be more likely to stay with you even in the face of conflicting information.

But if you’re having trouble connecting with a particular audience segment, if you have a product that’s underperforming, or if you have employees who don’t seem to get what you need them to do, market research may help you discover where your messages are missing their mark and get you back on track. As trained observers of human behavior, market researchers use a variety of tools and methods to listen to your audience and to learn where you are losing them. By arming you with fresh insights and a deeper understanding of where your crowd is coming from, you should be better prepared to lead them going forward.

[i] metro tribal™ is a division of Sector Intelligence, Inc., a social and market research firm serving leading corporations, trade and professional associations, non-profits, and government agencies for more than a decade. Visit us on the web at or call anytime at (434) 202-5145 for a free, no-risk consultation.

Three Ways The New MySpace Could Challenge Facebook

By Communications, Corporate Strategy, Marketing, Social Media

Here is a demo of the new MySpace, which was tweeted about by Justin Timberlake a few days ago. It’s pretty compelling. According to Chris and Tim Vanderhook, who bought the company in July 2011, MySpace’s new design now focuses on emerging artists who hope to be discovered. The Vanderhooks bought MySpace from News Corp. for just $35 million, after News Corp. paid more than ten times that for it in 2005.

I think it has the potential to do an end-run around Facebook for a few big reasons:

It’s clear that the designers and developers have been paying very close attention to what social networks are good at and what people use them for–sharing their life in pictures, connections and music.

First thing you notice is the prominent role music plays in the site. The musician in me loves this. It’s like you can create a soundtrack of events that can be tied to the images and posts you create. Very cool. The timeline is horizontal and everything in is a visual mash that ties posts, video, audio, connections and photos together around those events. It’s loose, slick, and sexy, and seems to borrow a lot from Path and Pinterest. If nothing else, it mimics how we act as expressive people and provides a refreshing antidote to the stodgy Facebook vanilla. It even lets you log in using competing network profiles.

It Appears to Be Anti-Grownup.

This demo looks like my daughter acts. She will sit in her room with music going while she texts friends, adds photos, connects music to pages, teases her Facebook friends, and does homework. The new Myspace seems designed to be immersive for teens. Good call, since their parents (and grandparents) have taken over Facebook. According to Will Oremus over at,  “it’s going to focus more narrowly on becoming a social home for musicians, artists, celebrities—and their fans.”

Privacy Will be Paramount

Myspace got in a lot of hot water for their privacy violations a few years back and as a result they are on a pretty tight leash. That actually plays to their advantage right now, as Facebook users start to rebel against the shameless exploitation of their data by Zuck’s public company needs. It also maps closely to teens’ desire to get away from their parents in the digital spaces they are forced to share.

I have yet to see any mobile demo or vision, which they absolutely MUST deliver to have a chance to really succeed. But they are presenting a pretty impressive alternative to a suddenly tired Facebook, especially for the younger and more artistic set.

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Can Humana Influence Wal-Mart Shoppers to Make Healthier Choices?

By Marketing

Wal-Mart wants to help you figure out what foods are good for you to eat. Teaming up with health insurance giant, Humana, select foods in Wal-Mart’s new “Great for You” program will label healthy choices with the logo to the left and will be eligible for five percent off to Humana members.

  • Will discounting healthy food choices influence American Wal-Mart shoppers?
  • Are consumers really not buying as many fruits and vegetables because of higher costs? Or are these merely shopping preferences?
  • Is a five percent discount enough to influence a consumers purchases?

The label is a good marketing technique and mildly health-conscious Wal-Mart shoppers may, indeed, respond to it. Criteria for what fits the “Great for You” profile  are listed on a Wal-Mart website. I find it amusing that featured on the page are canned vegetables with the “Great for You” logo — wouldn’t FRESH, in fact, be BETTER for you?

The people I know who are both very budget conscious shoppers and healthy food consumers don’t need such labeling. It’s kind of depressing to realize that ANYONE needs this kind of labeling.

It also begs for an overnight run with a sheet of “Great for You” stickers in hand, slapping them willy-nilly on boxes of Twinkies and Ho-Hos.

Who wants to go to Wal-Mart?

Content Creation and the 14-Piece Bedding Set

By Marketing, Social Media

I’ve been shopping for new bedding lately. Not one to want to spend a lot of time on such a project, I’ve found myself very attracted to the idea of the 14-piece bedding set. It’s the simplest decorating solution you can imagine — in one set you get all the pieces including dust ruffle, comforter, pillow shams, sheets, throw pillows and ideally, curtains — all perfectly coordinated. That’s my kind of shopping.

I’ve been spending more time that I really want to trying to find the mix of colors and patterns that I want; meanwhile, at work, pondering the issue that so many clients have in tackling the challenge of creating content to spread across multiple platforms.

Seems like a leap, huh? Not really — bear with me.

If a company has a marketing piece or case study they’ve spent a lot of time developing, what can come out of that are many coordinating pieces, if you will. A tweet of statistics pulled from the piece. A blog post that gives a more editorial slant to the information. An editorial article pitched to a trade publication on the same topic. A Facebook update sharing information about the author. In other words, the pillows, shams and curtains to the comforter that ties it all together.

How are you doing, coordinating your communications efforts?

Also, anyone have any good recommendations for a nice California King set?


Three Ways Social Media Really CAN Help.

By Communications, Corporate Strategy, Marketing, Social Media

I just finished a really terrific interview with Ted Hissey, SVP and Director of Innovation, Consumer Planning and Global Marketing Services for Brown-Forman Co., marketer of brands such as Jack Daniel’s, Southern Comfort, Korbel, Chambord and Finlandia. Yum. Read it here.

In this interview Ted discusses how social media has really enhanced the way they both learn from and then re-target customers across a wide range of demographics. It’s really worth the read. I took three really good things from it that I think we can all agree are pretty excellent ways to justify and empower social media use in our own companies.

Social media brings some scale to word-of-mouth. If your brand is one that relies on recommendations and satisfied customers sharing your products with others, social tools can really help you empower those customers to do it. Hissey says “Word-of-mouth has always been critical in driving awareness of new and existing brands,” and social tools allow customers to reach many more influencers with a single post.

Most social media vehicles are very targetable. When marketing alcohol (like many other CPGs), marketers can encounter a broad range of customer demographics that respond to different marketing triggers. Social media platforms can allow messages to be targeted by location, age, interests, networks, job, anything. This makes each marketing effort that much more efficient.

You can’t be boring or typical. If you’re going to bother tapping into  a social network of consumers, you have to make your messages worth their effort.  As Hissey says, “if it’s just something boring that people can get anywhere, you’re wasting your time.” If you get someone’s attention and wow them, they will spread that word.

So what’s stopping you from realizing these benefits and addressing these opportunities?

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