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Moving beyond the 'what' to the 'why' of consumer behaviour online

Simon McDonaldSimon McDonald is Business Director at InSites Consulting and is speaking at our ad research forum on 7 December - 'Valuing the Engaged Consumer'. We talked to Simon about improving our understanding of consumer behaviour online, what a 'social media netnography' is, and how media owners in Europe are using research for product development: What are the biggest challenges for online media owners looking to grow their understanding of the value of their audience? The challenge for all brands, not just media owners, is that the old relationships and ways of communicating with consumers have changed.  The companies that are actively listening and involving consumers will outperform the competition.  Can you give any specific examples of media companies your services to involve users in the product development process? One of the interesting case studies for us was for Telenet in Belgium, launching its Yelo VOD service.  We built a research community for its beta product. 100 people tested it over a 3 week period on PC, mobile and tablet, after which we came back with a roadmap covering 50 areas for improvement, based on participants experience and ideas. This included the smallest changes like moving the position of buttons on screen, to long term strategic goals, and suggestions involving larger investment, not to mention the key factors that would keep its users engaged in future. What kind of creative techniques do you recommend using to improve understanding of consumer behaviour?
New techniques such as research communities allow us to make research an engaging experience for all stakeholders (both clients and consumers) and develop deep, authentic and usable insights.  Engaging and activating methods such as multimedia ethnography can be used in conjunction or instead of survey research and help us move towards deeper understanding of behaviour, and bring the consumer into the company, sometimes all the way to the boardroom.  The use of social media netnography is proof that sometimes we can develop fully formed new insight from observations, without ever once interviewing individuals. What is ‘social media netnography’? It’s essentially a means of observing how people are discussing your company or brands online – understanding conversations around certain topics though social media, blogs, forums and the like.  In the healthcare industry for instance, there are issues around how and even whether companies can talk to patients. While they may not be able to engage with people directly, through social media, these companies can gauge the major issues around a specific topic, the volume of the conversation and positive/negative sentiment even on the level of discussing individual treatments. It’s a way of gathering insights without interviewing people. Where research companies come in is in providing a structured analysis and insight process – understand the whys, not just positive and negative-  and interpreting and recommending. It can also be incredibly useful to inform content decisions such as topics or areas to include in new websites, or as part of a communication plan.  Are publishers using these same methods to inform their content? From a content perspective, we’ve done lots of work in Belgium and the Netherlands across all media owners, to understand audiences, come up with content, tweak programmes, or develop programmes over time.  In the UK, we’re getting lots of requests to bring these methods into the commercial side – to help advertisers understand publishers’ users – we’re regularly told: ‘we’ve got the numbers, we just need to work out the more detailed, in depth findings.’ For example, how does online fit into the lives of a particular group? Why are they using online? What are the touchpoints, how does it fit into the purchase decision making journey, what are the effects of multi-screen etc.? We still do survey research, and it still holds a lot of value for our clients. Ultimately though, media research is becoming more qualitative – seeking more exciting reasons for the why, not just the numbers.

Simon is speaking at our research forum on 7 December: valuing the engaged consumer. Other speakers from Mindshare, Media Native, comScore and ITV - find out more. Free places for publisher members book here.

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