A major challenge for brand managers is finding ways to make headway into uncharted territory.
Say your brand introduces a new product, a sort of spin-off. Do you know whether the market will accept your new product? Will it reinforce your brand’s reputation? We often predict the reaction based on very small research samples and gut feelings.
Those don’t have to be your only resources, though. Social media is an ocean of unsolicited consumer opinion. Your customers talk about how they feel and what they want right this minute. It is the world’s largest focus group, and the participants aren’t even paid to be there.
The following four steps lay out the process for using social media data to evaluate new concepts. The new NyQuil sleep aid, ZzzQuil, or Dr Pepper’s new soda-infused barbecue sauce, two examples from Adweek’s review of recent consumer brand extensions
, help illustrate.
Step 1: Establish a baseline.
What are people saying about your brand right now?
Find out by performing text analysis on all social media conversations about your brand over the past year. (There are quite a few tools that can
do this.) What is the tone of the conversation? Pay particular attention to discussions of how people use your products.
Measuring basic consumer sentiment (positive, negative, and neutral) isn’t really sufficient. Instead, you need to break your analysis down into topics. Depending on the social analytics platform you have in house, you can accomplish this with one robust analysis.
Step 2: Examine cases.
Based on your baseline analysis, can you see how another product from your brand might be a logical fit? In other words, what is the “extendibility” potential of your brand, as voiced by consumers right now?
Let’s look at NyQuil. Last year, over 1.8 million social media posts discussed using NyQuil. The largest portion of the conversation involved taking NyQuil specifically as a sleep aid rather than for its marketed purpose as cold remedy. Here, the majority of consumers reveal an existing mental association between NyQuil and sleep inducement. It didn’t seem to be too much of a stretch for consumers if NyQuil’s parent company, Procter & Gamble, considered extending this brand experience.
With Dr Pepper, consumers vividly describe where and when they buy the soda, and what makes that experience so enjoyable for them. Last year, in over 1.5 million discussions about Dr Pepper, about 3 percent mentioned pairing Dr Pepper soda with barbecued food, including varieties of barbecue-flavored chips. Though this is not the single largest conversation driver, barbecue stands out as a unique pairing that draws considerable praise among consumers, warranting additional investigation.
Both examples illustrate the cues consumers can give you on social media regarding potential new real estate for your brands. Armed with these insights, you might consider testing your new hypotheses using traditional market research techniques, including surveys and focus groups.
Step 3: Evaluate the brand extension.
Fast-forward several months. By this time, you want to analyze online discussion of your new product. How have consumers reacted to this product to date? Is there high purchase intent? Do consumers recommend it to their friends online, or are they confused and skeptical about the product’s utility?
With the parent brand’s major appeal as a favored sleep aid, there was huge potential in the extendibility of the NyQuil brand into this new product category. Looking at the data following ZzzQuil’s launch, the largest driver of conversation (38 percent) represented excited early adopters using the product for its intended purpose as a sleep aid.
In addition, social media discussion signaled that consumers retained their old brand associations: 32 percent expressed purchase intent and another 18 percent recommend the product to others online. There was no expressed confusion about use and the sleep aid’s relationship to the parent brand, NyQuil. As far as the market is concerned, ZzzQuil exemplifies both a very logical and successful brand extension that reinforces the positive images associated with the parent brand.
Dr Pepper, on the other hand, is a more interesting case that drew more polarized consumer commentary. Fourteen percent of consumers expressed significant interest in trying the product; another 16 percent hotly criticized the concept and its taste. Furthermore, nearly 30 percent express skepticism and continue to ask questions about the new product.
pegged Dr Pepper Marinade as one of the worst brand extension concepts this year. It is true that barbecue-related discussion of Dr Pepper soda represents a significantly smaller proportion of product use cases. However, through social media analysis, we find the product appears to strongly appeal to the niche market of consumers who favor that food and beverage pairing.
Keep in mind: Every time you analyze social media data, you should track each category of conversation over time to assess the varying degrees of market education and acceptance.
Step 4: Conduct a full post-launch audit
Brand managers simply cannot afford to avoid this question: How has the brand extension affected your parent brand image? Parent brand dilution is the major strategic risk accompanying any brand extension. (Don’t forget the “New Coke” debacle.)
Remember that brand baseline we set up for Step 1? Now we can revisit the same social media analysis to evaluate, quantitatively and qualitatively, how the new product has affected brand-level discussion.
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As your brand evolves, it becomes even more important to uncover and track the nuances in consumer discussion— discussion that is earned and unfiltered.
Social media could be the crystal ball that reveals the destiny of your next brand extension.
Jehan Hamedi is the global market development manager at Crimson Hexagon.