Social innovation yields valuable consumer insights

By Hanni Randell-Bateman,
Brand Consultant


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In a tough market, innovation is key to business growth. As social media platforms create new opportunities to learn about customers, companies who go beyond just having a social presence, and use this new source of intelligence to drive innovation, stand to gain.

The financial crisis of the last decade has made business conditions challenging globally: access to funding has become increasingly restricted, consumer demand has become suppressed and competition has become stronger.  But despite the challenging economic environment, savvy businesses are continuing to thrive by fostering a culture of innovation. A McKinsey study of over 1,000 executives running global firms found that 70% reported innovation as one of their companies’ top three drivers of growth and performance.

With the social media landscape shifting out of its infancy, the value to marketers as a research, communication and service tool is increasing. There are a number of recent examples of organisations that have been particularly successful in using social networks to creatively engage in the world of the consumer and leverage insights that spark innovation.

Starbucks is a great example of a brand that clearly understands the power of engaging with customers via social media, beyond chasing likes and building followers. Recognising that their customers were increasingly accessing their accounts via smartphones, Starbucks ran a two-week competition: ‘Frappucino Happy Hour Photo Challenge’. In response to the daily photographic challenges set by Starbucks, customers simply tweeted a picture of themselves including the @StarbucksUK username to be in with a chance of winning a £10 Starbucks card.

With #myfrappucino trending on twitter during the competition, Starbucks received maximum exposure for minimal cost and created thousands of brand ambassadors along the way. But what is more, the photos submitted provided Starbucks with an honest visual insight into the occasions when their coffees are consumed, helping substantiate new product innovations.

There are a several examples of financial service providers building relationships and engaging with customers via social media. One such example is Citi’s first-of-its-kind ‘Connect Community’, a woman only professional network. Citi recognised the many choices professional woman faced on a day-to-day basis, of which choices regarding careers were included. The Connect Community was designed to be a forum on LinkedIn for women to engage in career conversations.

It wasn’t an altruistic act by any means – women make 80% of Citi’s customers’ financial household decisions. Understanding the decision making process was key for Citi. The community not only provided an insight into the latter but by listening to conversations and entering into the debate by running polls, Citi has been afforded the opportunity to understand women’s attitudes towards finance related issues.

A final example can be drawn from Ozu University’s innovative Facebook campaign, which was launched to encourage enrolment to Istanbul’s newest university. Ozu University faced a unique challenge: how to attract top students without having any academic track record or alumni. Recognising the link between student’s preference to talk about themselves and the importance placed upon engaging with others via social networks, Ozu University decided to create an online experience that put the user at heart of the experience, rather than the university.

Their Facebook app ‘The Game of Your Life’ used Facebook to create a timeline for the future based on a series of decisions made about their university life. Students who participated in the campaign then had the opportunity to pitch to the university and win a four-year scholarship.  The campaign was hugely successful, reaching one in four students within Turkey and generating millions of dollars in media coverage.

Most notably however, the campaign successfully built brand awareness amongst students, so much so that the previously unknown university became a leading university choice for top Turkish students.  The app furthermore provided Ozu University with an insight into the ambitions of the Turkish student population, knowledge they could utilise in the future to inform course design and recruitment campaigns.

All these companies have demonstrated the potential win-win benefits of using social media to build brand reputation and also yield deep consumer insights that will drive future innovation.