We read in a recent Forbes blog entry that Clinique is using search as a consumer insight tool. This is a great improvement over traditional insight-generation techniques like focus groups because there’s no Hawthorne effect (that is, there’s more transparency). Commenting on the advantages of social media research over traditional methods, Robert Kozinets, author of Netnography—Doing Ethnographic Research Online, and Professor of Marketing at York University’s Schulich School of Business, said:

“Traditional research methods like focus groups and surveys ask people questions in artificial surroundings and in an artificial way. Netnography is based upon the fact that people are already communicating about things that are meaningful to them in a natural way, as cultures and communities online. With the social media revolution under way, many companies are just beginning to take notice of netnography.”

Like search log analysis, netnography is a way to mine online information for insights. Netnography does it by analyzing what’s already been said out there on social media. The ethnographic study of online communities and cultures, netnography is a research technique with a 15-year academic history. It’s a rigorous, disciplined, step-by-step adaptation of the anthropological technique of ethnography that takes it from the physical realm to the world of online culture and communities. Netnography is a scientifically accepted cultural approach to understanding the many phenomena of social media.

The advantage of netnography and social media analysis over search log analysis is that you can hear directly from consumers about what matters to them. With search log analysis, you have to draw the inference that because they search on “make-up” and “applying” that they specifically want more tips on applying make-up, when in fact they may be interested in some other, related topic. Even if they are searching for tips on applying make-up, what kind of tips are they looking for? Do they want tips on doing it faster? Applying it so it lasts longer? Applying it in a way that won’t waste product? With social media, you can see exactly what the complaints are.

By researching online social media (with NetBase technology, for example) you can uncover insights with direct expression of need, such as:

Based on some of the insights above, you might want to write specific tips around applying make-up, or come up with entirely new make-up products to address these types of issues. For instance, the last quote indicates that it might be beneficial to have a way to apply make-up when you’re tired and you can’t see well in the morning. Other quotes indicate that applying make-up is hard for people with bad eyesight. What kind of product innovations could address that problem?

More generally, here are some good insights around what people dislike about make-up:

For Clinique and other consumer products companies, netnography and social media analysis is a fast, accurate way to listen directly to the voice of the consumer and to potentially find insights that lead to product innovations.

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