Marketers have relied on research from the time that marketing truly began. Whether that research had to do with finding out what customers wanted to hear or how other campaigns actually worked, data has been a marketer’s secret weapon. If you could show research behind your methodologies, your knowledge, not to mention your credibility, seemed to increase in strength. Unfortunately, we’ve come across a few examples of market research lately that seemed heavily biased, inaccurate, or that simply did not make sense. It makes us wonder if we are seeing the beginning of a disturbing trend.
The first questionable study surfaced back in February when highly respected SEO and inbound marketing company HubSpot published a report indicating that blogging out-performed television ads during the Super Bowl. I had a lot to say about that report, and to his credit, Mike Volpe of HubSpot responded in the comments section.
Flash forward to just a couple of weeks ago. An email, sent by Penton Marketing began with the following note: “B2B buyers are 70% through the buying process before contacting the vendor.” That seemed pretty interesting given all of the talk about how social media is enticing people to interact with brands. However, an effort to click to download a report simply led to a page that said “We’ll contact you.” Further research led to a May 2012 report on lead nurturing, where Penton cited the same statistic from SiriusDecisions, a marketing research firm. The statistic was not linked in any way to the Sirius site or to a report, and after nearly a hour of searching, we have not been able to find the Sirius report that actually cites this statistic as being fact.
Over this past weekend, another disconcerting event was added to this laundry list. In skimming through my Twitter feed, I saw a promoted tweet (one that a company pays to have appear prominently) mentioning a new study on Social Media and brands. For the first time ever, I clicked a link from a promoted tweet and I even handed over my phone number and email address so that I could download the report. Why was I willing to hand over that information? Well, the report was authored by Forrester Research, so I felt the report would be well worth my while in addition to the minor inconvenience of being harassed by sales people.
Sadly, and surprisingly, the report is rife with disconnects and flaws. In order to highlight how market research seems more misleading these days, let’s analyze the report carefully.
A Shaky Foundation
Problem one, the title of the research is misleading based on who was surveyed to complete the report. The report is called, “How Social Media is Changing Brand Building.” This would imply that social media definitely *is* changing brand building. It’s true that according to the study, 93% of marketers polled said that they need to reinvent how they approach brand building because of social media and mobile. However, let’s take a look at the businesses surveyed for this report.
33 Across – Here’s what their “about” page says, in part: “Reaching over a billion users, 33Across processes tens of thousands anonymous social engagement, influence, and interest actions that surround marketer and publisher brands each second. The company has offices in 11 cities including New York, San Francisco, Sunnyvale, Salt Lake City, Chicago, Detroit, and Boston.” Obviously, this is not a small company and it’s already immersed in social media as part of its business.
360i – From their “about” page – “360i is an award-winning digital agency specializing in search engine marketing, social media, mobile marketing and web design and development.” OK, so this is an agency that specializes in social media. Not to criticize our fellow agency people, but it’s possible they might have brought a biased perspective to these questions.
Digitas – Another huge agency that in part specializes in social media marketing.
General Motors – Primarily a consumer-oriented company, and another extremely large organization.
imc2 – Now called “Me Plus You,” this is yet another digital agency.
JetBlue – Another huge consumer-oriented company.
McDonalds – We certainly know who they are.
Radian6 – Radian6 is one of the top sellers of social media monitoring tools. Again, they might have brought a bit of a bias to this survey.
Rockfish Interactive – Another digital agency
Tenthwave Digital – Agency
Vivaki – Still another agency, this one combining personnel from Digitas and Leo Burnett (a very well-respected agency).
Weber Shandwick – A PR firm
These companies are the only ones listed as having been interviewed for the report. Given that, is it surprising that 93% of people polled said social media was changing everything? To us, it seems a bit self-serving.
What’s even more difficult to understand is that several of the findings indicate that B2B companies were surveyed. While the results often differ from the provided B2C results, who out of these companies represents a B2B company that is not an agency? Were the digital agencies listed above counted as B2B? That makes the report seem even less credible given the mentioned agencies’ proclivity for social media.
Obviously, questioning the foundation for a study is going to cast a shadow on the study as a whole, but let’s look at one more facet of this report that raised our eyebrows.
According to Forrester, out of 57,924 online adults, 59% visit a social networking site on a daily or weekly basis. Of those, 33% have become a fan of a brand or company over the last three months.
Our initial reaction? Who cares about these numbers? Facebook just marked one billion users worldwide. Is it surprising that a little over half of adults polled said they visit a social networking site pretty regularly? Not really. Moreover, the small percentage of people who have clicked “like” on a company or brand page would seem to argue against the idea that brands are seeing a windfall of engagement on Facebook. In fact, Advertising Age recently published an article titled, “No, Brands Aren’t People — and Consumers Don’t Want Them to Be” (only abstract is now available) noting, “we found that only 23% of consumers have brand relationships – and they are already fans of the brand in question. The rest aren’t interested in a relationship, regardless of whether they like a brand or not.”
Taking it a step further, we were able to find a SiriusDecisions study on how the C-Suite prefers to validate vendors. According to this study, 31% of CEOs polled said they validated a vendor based on a previous experience with the company. CIOs and HR personnel also indicated that previous experience with a company was the most important factor in choosing a vendor. Social Media has nothing to do with that unless it is to help keep your company top-of-mind after an interaction with your customer.
Assuming those other cited studies are correct, the fact that half of adults polled visit an online network is virtually useless to most brands. If people are not even liking your page, you are not reaching them. Your brand has remained as unknown to those people as it was before you joined the world of social media.
Why the avalanche of poor research?
The real question is why so many studies are published when they are clearly shaky at best. In the case of the Forrester report, one almost wonders if the companies interviewed also paid for the study, which would explain the bias. Passing such a report off as objective market research seems to us like a major hit to the credibility of market research itself.
But that’s just how we see it. What do you think?
Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thomashawk/3186635150/ via Creative Commons