By Ben Leet
It’s easy to sit and blame Mark Zuckerberg. After all, isn’t he the one that radically changed the way that humans interact with each other, creating this frenzy around two buzzwords: “social media”?
However Facebook hasn’t changed the way human beings think, interact or communicate–it’s simply given us a tool to do this more efficiently than we could have done before. We are fundamentally sociable beings; we build friendships and relationships; we take care of our young, sick or elderly, and we place huge emphasis on our interactions with others. And yet, when the world got smaller and we invented cars and planes, we partially lost a sense of this as we flew the proverbial nest and went in seek of riches further afield. The net effect of this was that time became a precious commodity – you had to prioritize who to stay in touch with, when you would see them, and how you would build and maintain those long distance relationships.
Then we invented the internet. The internet allows us to maintain that sense of interaction with others, no matter how far away or over what period of time. Think about it – would you take a trip home to catch up with an old college friend you hadn’t seen in 20 years? Probably not, but adding them on Facebook is great because it takes seconds -not hours- to maintain that relationship. And the more virtual connections we have, the stronger our feeling of community and self-worth becomes.
So in the marketing world, an ideal scenario is where consumers are connecting with brands in the same way that they engage with their old college friend. It’s a relationship, like any other, linked through the liking of a Facebook page or any number of other social media outlets, and these connections create a sense of engagement between the brand owner and the customer. Marketers today can immediately track and assess the impact of any online viral campaign simply by monitoring page views, likes, retweets, etc., but more importantly they can then engage with that customer group in real time for any number of things, since they have an existing and perceptibly strong relationship already in place.
This gives market research a problem. Historically, the role of market research was to have a dialogue with people, customers or otherwise, present feedback and recommendations to the wider marketing teams, who would then take action in the form of outbound (or one way) communication. MR would then measure the effectiveness of that communication through more dialogue; however, marketing departments are now having two-way dialogues directly with their customers, enabled by social technology, which is putting the proverbial MR nose out of joint. This is the root cause of the “self-service” model that hits a nerve with the MR industry.
Is this trend going to kill MR? Of course not. Marketers still need the trusted eye of an MR expert to understand consumer behavior. The MR industry (both client and agency side) needs to work much more closely with marketing departments to help them drive more value from these relationships. Having a turf war with marketers over who owns the dialogue and relationships will only have a non-productive outcome, but if MR can maximize its analytical capabilities and understanding of behavioral traits to deliver insights that marketers don’t have the experience to find on their own, MR and marketing will once again work in harmony to add significant combined value to any brand or business.