14493106589_5a7f95dce5_mWhen your business or your brand is in trouble, getting to the heart of the matter is paramount. And how do you get to learn ‘why’ something is going on? You look for deep customer insights, of course – to help explain events, trends and dynamics. This is easily done in social, and best done proactively and over time, to help detect movement early.

One company taking data and social media insights very seriously is Target, as they work – under direction of new CEO Brian Cornell – to rebuild a brand that has faltered the past few years.

What happened? In his piece on Cornell, Fortune’s Phil Wahba explains: “Instead of cultivating its cachet as competition mounted and the economy struggled, Target instead emphasized low prices and unimaginative products. The doubly deadly result: The retailer is no longer winning on style or on price.”

Readers of that same Fortune article earlier this year might have assumed the newly appointed CEO was taking a more grassroots approach to customer feedback after reading that he ran his own secret shopper mission at a Dallas-area store, dispatching seven local moms (all Target regulars) to various store departments, then soliciting their honest, unfiltered, passionate opinions.

But spur-of-the-moment focus groups aren’t enough to inform the changes their brand needed to make, and Target knows that. They’re using business data and deep social media listening tactics to garner crucial insights realtime, in a dynamic and scalable way.

Social data tells the story behind the numbers

What Target has figured out, is the power of insight and action at the executive level. No longer does a CEO wait for a weekly or monthly report out on business performance. That would be to be removed from the business. Instead, the CEO embraces data in the moment, for insight into action, and across business functions.

The sincerity of intention is evidenced in the investment into Command Centers and smart leverage of social data, clarity of base lines and leverage of visualization to easily detect key movements. That way of thinking is second nature to Cornell.

Where the secret sauce to brand understanding and business growth lies is in understanding consumer emotion better. What brands need to be mining for is emotional information, what we at NetBase call the “Net Sentiment” consumers attach to brands – both positive and negative – and the depth of that emotion or passion. The insight does not lie in the number itself, but in surfacing the drivers of consumer sentiment. It’s the social equivalent of the seven secret shoppers, but times many millions and all geographies.

Listening to and analyzing categories, brands, competitors and consumer sentiment tells brands much of what they need to know to create the shopping experience consumers want. Target does this by tracking real-time social conversations from their guests in their NetBase-powered social command center. It’s where Cornell and his team can view real-time updates on what people are saying about Target, its products, trending topics, and most importantly, how consumers FEEL about all of it and WHY.

 When you have that information, you can take any number of actions to engage consumers, solve problems, sway shoppers away from the competition, and elevate your brand overall – ultimately building for growth across the company.

As Cornell outlined in an interview with Wahba, Target has learned that:

  • Style – specifically Apparel, Home, and Beauty – is a signature category where they can differentiate themselves
  • Shoppers to the Baby & Kids category are their most frequent guests, which means there needs to be a focus there
  • Wellness is important to the types of guests Target attracts, so upping their game with regard to things like fitness apparel, wearables, and the food they offer is needed to gain recognition as a wellness destination

These types of insights – along with emerging trends in your category, customer service or inventory issues, geo-specific data, and how you compare to competitors – are all available to all brands on social media. This is the data that offers Target, and everyone else taking advantage of it, an amazingly in-depth understanding of the total guest or shopper picture, in realtime.

And it’s important, because thanks to social, EVERY company nowadays is public – meaning consumers will discuss whatever they want to on social media, down to the cleanliness of your store’s restrooms. And that social discussion can and will impact your bottom line IRL (in real life).

Listen and be ready

You can’t control the message, of course – you can only control what you do to inspire the message and how you react to it. That’s the approach that Target’s Cornell is taking. As he told Wahba, “We want to be a retailer that really understands what our guest is looking for us to deliver.” And acting on sentiment-based insights from deep social listening is how they’ll do it.

Target is embodying a new type of grocer breed, working to provide an end-to-end guest experience informed by social data, led by their CEO. It will take nothing less to get where they want to go in their category. Meanwhile, the actions of EVERY CEO are public too via social.

Where do you look for best practices, to not watch your competition pass you by?

Originally appeared on Commpro

Image from Mike Mozart

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