Here’s a starter for ten, to quote Jeremy Paxman: In an era of data abundance, why is it so difficult for marketers to find out what their audiences really think?

There seem to be two main reasons. First, our love affair with data seems to have relegated in-depth qualitative insight to a distant second place. And second, deriving high-quality qualitative insights is expensive: in today’s uncertain economic climate, focus groups and larger qualitative studies often don’t make the cut in the annual market research budget round.

The obvious solution, adopted over recent years by marketers, has been to use direct connections with audiences on social channels to get instant feedback on new product/service launches and marketing campaign impact.

This approach also offered the lure of a potentially continuous stream of qualitative feedback – a marketer’s dream! Yet unfortunately, this promise of a brave new research world has come up short. The majority of attempts at gathering valuable feedback about what customers really think about brands, products and services from the plethora of comments and views posted to the likes of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube channels end badly, with the most useful opinions drowned out by a teeming swarm of pointless commentary.

It’s hardly surprising because these platforms were never designed to be market research tools. They’re broadcast platforms that are effective as promotional channels. And yes, if brands pump enough energy and money into it, there is the potential to draw a few limited conclusions from the number of likes, smiley faces or shares their broadcasts attract, and from the reams of two-line comments that vanish far too quickly. But it’s a flawed model that cannot deliver the granular insights into customer sentiment required to stay ahead of the competition.

Fortunately there is a new model emerging, which meshes some of the best elements of online communities with the best parts of traditional, authentic qualitative research. It involves using social influencers as a funnel for in-depth market research into consumers’ thoughts and feelings about a brand.

Influencers are already great brand ambassadors for marketers, driving awareness, engagement and return on investment (ROI) through successful partnerships. They also have a vested interest in making sure they are fully engaged with their audience’s changing views and opinions. Thus they are ideal candidates for canvassing audience opinion on topics that can inform future product development, marketing and communications decisions.

But surely influencers will face the same problems with the legacy social platforms as brands, you may say. Well, because their livelihoods rely on knowing what makes their audiences tick, influencers are slightly ahead of the game. Over the last 12 months a growing band of influencers in search of qualitative insight have been using new social discussion platforms to conduct sentiment analysis on masses of comments. This lets them understand the data story within the comments, and gauge how their audiences are really thinking and feeling about their content. In essence they are doing their own qualitative market research. From here, it’s a natural progression to conduct research with their engaged audiences on behalf of relevant brands too.

Recently, seven leading gaming and tech influencers rallied their audiences and posed the question: How do you feel about gaming today? The result was a tidal wave of 10,000 poll votes and 1,800 comments from over 1,650 avid gamers. Each interaction was automatically analysed for topics, sentiments, trends and demographics, providing a goldmine of quantitative and qualitative insight.

It’s easy to see how valuable these types of insights can be to games companies – and to marketers in other sectors too. Just imagine how this insight and feedback can be used to directly inform future product, service, engagement and communications strategies. It’s also great for audiences/communities because their valuable comments no longer just disappear into the ether as they do on legacy social platforms, but are actually heard – which is data democracy at it best.

And at the gong, I’ll leave you with this: the phenomenon of influencer marketing shows no sign of abating, and the digital ecosystem marketers seek to navigate is becoming ever more complex. Businesses, brands and agencies should be looking to leverage influencer marketing to drive the audience engagement, feedback and insight so coveted by marketers everywhere.


By Tim Wilson, co-founder and CEO of Qutee

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