How To Use Social Listening For Better Out-Of-Category Inspiration


Marketers salivate like dogs looking at a T-bone steak for the product innovation, launch strategies, and digital user experiences from Apple and Nike. These brands are responsible for major behavior change in and out of their categories and drive demand for new types of products and experiences; however, looking to them for inspiration is not always practical or applicable to your business need. Above all, it’s just so expected.

Another way to get consumer-centric inspiration with a more unique twist is to use social listening tools like Sysomos MAP and Radian 6 to look at how consumers talk about a similar out-of-category product or service. It’s a mostly qualitative exercise where you profile the behaviors, drivers, emotions, language, pain points, and benefits of this experience across the entire consumer journey (focusing more on some areas depending on how you plan to apply the information).

If you’re not familiar with social listening tools or methodologies for conducting inspirational audits, here are some examples to inspire you in your search for inspiration.

Let’s pretend you’re an airline competing for the lucrative JFK/ SFO/LAX markets. (cough) Jet Blue, Virgin America, United, Delta (cough). Right now you’re stroking the ego of the young budding tech executive with an Instagram-worthy experience by sprucing up your lounges, re-designing the first-class experience, and offering new perks and rewards. How can you use social listening to differentiate your experience and communications? I would look at how consumers talk about luxurious services that have a similar journey and touch points. How about a day at the spa? It’s something you book in advance where there are tiered package options and lots of amenities and little extras. Listen to how consumers describe their experience in the categories I listed above from booking through re-purchase. What new little extras can you give them that the other airlines aren’t thinking about? How can you message to them differently than your competitors? You might also look at the experience of a honeymoon, a dinner party, or a being a SoHo House or American Express Platinum Card member.

Let’s pretend you’re a car service like Uber or Lyft. Competition is high, price difference is minimal, and copycatting happens quickly. Getting to market quickly with demand-driving innovation is imperative, and experience is the biggest differentiator. There are only so many ways you can slice & dice car service options, so what’s next? Try listening to consumers who are talking about someone or something that gave them the same experiential benefit. Lyft is about being social with the driver. Where else are you social with strangers, and what do you get out of it? Online forums, elevators, and music festivals come to mind. What do you get out of the strangers the talk to during those experiences that would help Lyft come up with new ways to leverage their socially-focused car experience to deliver new sources of value?

Lastly, let’s pretend you’re a mid-range automotive company that’s trying to tout innovation (i.e. Ford, Nissan, General Motors). You’re probably coming to market with similar ideas and slapping the word “innovation” all over your ads. How can you talk about innovation in a unique and more insightful way? Try looking at how people talk about innovation with motorized farming equipment like John Deere tractors, or look at how people talk about airplane makers like Boeing and Airbus.

The key to all of this is looking at how people talk about these brands and their experiences with them. What people say about brands is more insightful than what brands say about themselves. If you think people online aren’t talking about the brands you want to look for, you’re probably wrong. People talk about everything online.

David Trahan is a Sr. Strategist with MRY in San Francisco. He specializes in consumer behavior, branding, and digital. He is opinionated, thoughtful, and provocative at his core, and he uses his writing to re-frame ideas in a new context. David’s idea of success is If he can get you to laugh, try something new, and take on a new perspective. You can follow him online @onthedavidtrain. 

Social Media Week