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How Mature is Your Market Intelligence Model?

Recently, our DigitalPulse team attended the Netbase Live 2018 conference in New York. We participate in events like this as part of our ongoing commitment to our clients to stay on the leading edge in the field of digital listening and intelligence. The event saw a diverse mix of experts take the stage ranging from researchers at Carnegie Melon to senior-level marketers from ESPN. Overall, the depth and insights of many of the Master-level courses offered were beneficial to teams like ours who use digital listening as a means of delivering mature guidance for the enterprise organization.

In one session, Melissa Waters (VP of Marketing, Lyft) was quoted as saying, “World-class creative is table stakes. I need a strategic partner who is embedded in our business everyday helping us with product decisions and helping us with the way we design our service experience—not just making ads.” It was all I could do to refrain from standing on the linen-draped conference table where I was seated and scream, “Exactly!”

The depth of insight that digital listening can deliver is immense. And in the hands of the expert, those insights can be translated into actionable intelligence that can actually influence true business development. With that in mind, the question each product marketer has to ask themselves is, “How mature is our listening intelligence?” In the same session where Waters was quoted the following maturity model was presented:

Listening Maturity Model

Using this visual as a guidance, I’d like to offer three key steps to ensuring that the market intelligence you are building or receiving is leaning towards the “Productive” or “Operational” side of the model.

1. Look for continuity, not uniqueness

Most people assume that social or digital listening is about looking for spikes, or finding that “one nugget of insight” that will really wow their respective audience. But as companies build towards a more mature model of intelligence, they actually reverse that paradigm and begin looking for continuity of findings as opposed to one-off flashes. This doesn’t mean looking for the SAME finding, but simply themes or topics that are similar or related, and noting their regularity of occurrence over a prolonged period of time. The best companies develop a scoring rubric that notes prolonged insight strength, typically including inputs like the number of mentions per month, the level of engagement per month, or simply the occurrence of the insight.



2. Bracket insights to larger business objectives or opportunities

While scoring these findings for continuity, bracket them into larger themes representing new opportunities or existing business goals. By doing this, important themes emerge from a pile of disconnected nuggets that, in and of themselves, might be considered inconsequential. The clustering exercise can borrow the scoring rubric developed in the previous step to cumulatively determine the most important themes to pursue—specifically which represent potentially high ROI opportunities.


3. Strive to proactively influence what you’re monitoring as opposed to reactively reporting on it

Once strategic themes have been defined, consider the impact on messaging, channels of marketing and target audiences. At this stage of the maturity model, social listening is no longer a discovery step, but extends into an analytic and measurement model that monitors the progress toward strategic goals.

In summary, as more and more companies mature their digital engagement with their buyers, listening models have to keep up to ensure that what is being learned can be converted into tangible guidance and revenue drivers. Disappearing are the days when companies can simply report on reach, engagement and sentiment. Instead, the data and insights that are gleaned must also be translated into strategic intelligence—and then turning around and monitoring progress towards those strategic goals. Taking the necessary steps to mature your model will make all the difference.

The Power of Personas

I’ve always been intrigued by the ability of an effective coach to enhance the skills of a highly successful athlete. How do you motivate a decorated veteran like Serena Williams to compete at Wimbledon? How does Michael Phelps’ coach inspire him to break yet another Olympic record? Successful coaching requires understanding the goals, needs and behaviors of an athlete—knowing what frustrates them, what frightens them, and especially, what fuels and triggers changes.

That’s why it surprises me when I see business executives react with skepticism when we discuss the power of tapping into a persona and driving change.

What I See in the Field Every Day

On a daily basis, across the US and Canada, I work in the field with Sales Associates and Executives who are customer-facing and accountable to the different needs and desires of their customers. Training these various Associates requires me to adapt my training strategy to the audience of each city I visit. Why? Teams often take on the identity or persona of the city they reside in. Philadelphia is a working-class city with tough-as-nails sports teams. So, in speaking to my team in Philadelphia, we coach with a no-nonsense and matter-of-fact approach. Palm Desert, located adjacent to Palm Springs, is a more relaxed resort destination; in some ways it’s a throwback to retail during the Mad Men era. The approach in Palm Springs is customer-driven, VIP service with a certain prestige exuded by the Sales Associate. So, as I touchdown in each city, I review the unique characteristics and preferences of my audience and modify and customize the content, communications and training tactics to best suit their needs.

Before You Roll Your Eyes…

Now I know, it’s tempting to think, “You’ve got to be kidding me. Personas are nice to haves, not need-to-haves. I know my audience… I have bigger priorities right now.” And that may be true, depending on what you’re trying to accomplish. In our experience, marketers mistakenly use personas for the wrong reasons. So, let’s start by aligning on what a persona is and isn’t.

A persona is:

  • A clear description of who your ideal customers are, what their days are like, the challenges they face, and how they make decisions
  • A critical tool to help you gain the perspective of a potential buyer or existing customer
  • Used to drive operational, field-level customer experiences

A persona is not:

  • A one-and-done exercise. Rather, persona development is an “always-on” analysis of changes in your customer base, fed with real insights (in my case, from the field)
  • A targeting tool; you should use quantitative segmentation for targeting. However, segmentations can be further fleshed out with personas.

Sourcing Personas

Personas can be low-tech or high-tech. Many big data companies utilize technology and data to build and deliver customized content. Netflix recently revealed that the content they choose to produce—not just the obviously customized viewing experience—is heavily influenced by customer personas. Netflix overlays multiple customer data points onto each persona, creating a full 360-degree picture of their customers and their preferences. But even with this amount of data, Netflix has to make the personas accessible and actionable for the creatives who ultimately select, design, produce, and direct the content. For example, Cary Fukunaga, Emmy award-winning director, recently revealed that Netflix worked with him in the editing room to structure his new show Maniac using their algorithms to reveal the exact moment when likely viewers (based on the persona the show was built around) tune in or out.

Low-tech personas can be created by an individual trainer, or by a store manager, based on direct observation. Talk to enough customers, and you’ll see the patterns emerge. The “bargain-obsessed suburban mom”, the “husband in a rush to buy a gift”, the “I just need some clothes for work, get me out of here.” The trick is writing these observations down, and telling consumers’ stories. This is what I do—and the act of writing and thinking about the consumer gets me even more inside their head.

Getting Traction

Personas help sales reps, trainers, managers, and marketers focus on their customers at an individual level, allowing them to “walk a mile in their shoes”—gaining insight into their goals, needs and behaviors, while at the same time learning what frustrates them. Personas don’t work when they sit on a shelf. This often happens in the translation from a magnificent piece of research work to a sales rep choosing to take them time to really understand and consume the content.

To get traction in a world of constant distractions, personas need to tell a story. They need to be funny and memorable. Oftentimes, two or three key insights per persona are enough. If you’re training a field sales force, do it in person. Play a game; create funny names or mnemonics for the different segments; use visuals. One other trick is to take the time to laminate 9 X 11 double-sided persona cheat-sheets and hand them out. These have a much better chance of getting used—and occupying an honored place on a desk or in a briefcase—than a PDF file or bound PowerPoint presentation.


In summary, whether you’re a director tasked with editing a television series, a trainer modifying tactics to better engage Sales Associates, or a CMO charged with overhauling your value proposition, personas are qualitative, storytelling tools that help people remember who their customer really is. When personas are activated in customer engagement strategies, whether in field or online, you are almost guaranteed to make the customer feel like you really do know them. This goes a long way in driving results.

Why Storytelling is the New Market Intelligence KPI

Recently, a client pulled me aside after an intelligence readout and asked for 5 minutes of my time in a one-on-one setting. As a professional services provider, situations like this make you brace to hear that your contract may be in jeopardy. Instead, what she conveyed to me was not only NOT surprising, but was something other clients had all recently relayed to me as well.

I think we need to change the format of the report” she said.

No problem. What were you thinking?” I replied.

I think we need to have your team do more story-telling for us. We’re trying to communicate what’s going on in the marketplace to our upper levels, and more and more they are asking for the “why” as opposed to just the wanting the numbers.

As mentioned, her request was an echo of something we have heard from other clients all within the past 12 months. What’s interesting, is that all of these clients represent long-term relationships where our market intelligence reporting has remained relatively unchanged relying on benchmarking data, numeric metrics and visual graphics to convey results. So what’s changed? Why the sudden request for “stories?” As a veteran in this field, I think I can identify three key reasons this is becoming the norm for insights reporting:

1. Increasing Growth of Content Publishing

As digital consumption has increased, so has the amount of ads encountered by the average user. In 1984, a person was estimated to see over 2,000 ads/day. Fastforward to the present, that number has increased to over 5,000. The proliferation of ad-blockers and the support from platforms like Facebook to hide invasive advertising means marketers are understanding that they need to convey more than product features or visual displays baiting people for clicks.

Instead, the digital world is changing as companies strive to convey how their product can change your business through customer testimonial blogs, human interest videos and social posts conveying corporate positions on moral and ethical issues. Think about this… in the past 6 months, the most important thing driving business impact for two of the biggest banks has been their stance and content on gun control. Now, more recently, Nike is opting to push content about heroism and racism as opposed to “just advertising” shoes.

The result is that as companies push more and more content, competitive intelligence needs to convey both the results of those efforts and the WHY behind those efforts. Ten years ago competitive intelligence simply need to show that Competitor X had increased web visitation by 15% and it was naturally assumed this was through ad placement. Now, however, the context and story behind the increase is equally important.

2. Senior Executive Involvement in Publishing

One key to success in the digital space is being known as a thought leader. More and more upper-level executives are realizing that this requires their personal involvement in publishing content. In almost every case, we are hearing that “we need stories so that we can explain these insights to our executives.” Executives are asking marketing teams to convey not just what type of content is working, but why it’s working, so they can adjust their behavior and create new content themselves—whether online or in public speaking events.

Don’t believe us?Here are 9 CEOs successfully publishing today who are telling your directors and manager why they need to be blogging too. For them, digital intelligence reporting has evolve beyond “we saw a 10% increase in click-through rates,” and instead needs to be “our competitor is focusing on the employment and empowerment of women in the workplace, as well as weighing in on how they are responding to the #MeToo movement; they are seeing new levels of engagement from these efforts.”

Digital and competitive intelligence gathering has to evolve beyond “we saw a 10% increase in click-through rates,” and instead needs to be “our competitor is focusing on the employment and empowerment of women in the workplace, as well as weighing in on how they are responding to the #MeToo movement; they are seeing new levels of engagement from these efforts.”

3. The Saturation of Data

In the famous Stephen Spielberg 1993 film adaptation of Michael Crichton’s “Jurassic Park,” Jeff Goldblum’s incredible portrayal of Dr. Ian Malcolm serves as the conscience for the narrative by criticizing the park’s creator for his carelessness with genetic manipulation by stating “You spent so much time wondering if you could, you never bothered to ask if you should.

Marketers should heed the same wisdom when it comes to data collection. The mountain of agencies and data providers has exponentially grown over the past 10 years, and enterprises have brought so many on board that their daily routine has evolved into doing nothing more than sifting through online dashboards and reports looking for patterns. The end result is a fatigue in trying to discern meaning or consequence from this routine. (Read Sara Spivey, CMO of Bazaarvoice, talk more about this conundrum) What marketers are striving for now is intelligence that surfaces truly actionable insights. The best enterprises rely on human analysts—storytellers—that know exactly how to interpret the relevant signals, and convert them into the stories and insights that will quickly drive action in-market, whether at the senior executive level, or as a part of more structured marketing campaigns or sales playbooks.


The takeaway here is not that metrics no longer matter. Quite the opposite; when it comes to market intelligence, the data still identify what works and what doesn’t. We’ve simply moved beyond the “what” to true “why” storytelling. Marketers now need human analysts whose strengths lie in translating data into stories that show why a competitor is winning, or why consumers are so passionate about gun control. These why “stories” function as a real-time feedback loop to inform the messaging and collateral you need to create yourself. Your content will be all the richer when it is written not just knowing that your audience will respond to it… but why your audience will respond to it.

The Six Chapters of the Social Insights Story

In 2018, it seems that almost everything that could be said about social marketing has been said. But, when we talk to executives with “social media” in their title, whether in B2C or B2B, there is one area that still comes up as a huge untapped opportunity: deriving real-time, breakthrough insights from prospects and customers that can be immediately and impactfully reinjected back into go-to-market programs.

Almost everyone sees the potential for vastly more responsive campaigns, creative, product tweaks, and route-to-market based on the exabytes of digital data that consumers and businesses generate daily. And indeed, there are countless tools and technologies that monitor the world’s digital and social conversations for insights, and almost every Fortune 1000 company pays for at least one of them. But, when speaking with clients, they still have trouble deriving impactful go-to-market insights and strategies from these sources that can make a difference in revenue growth in this quarter. The answer isn’t fancy visualizations or more “signal”—it is human beings telling an organized, compelling story.

Social listening is literally like “boiling the ocean”—there’s almost too much data to process. Largely because of this, social listening as an industry has been hampered by a lack of organization, and a lack of narrative drive. Whereas traditional quantitative research is organized around a questionnaire or a discussion guide, social listening tends to be unstructured. Instead, analysts look for anything that pops out of the noise. This ad hoc approach can yield valuable nuggets, but too often, this general discovery yields heat rather than light when it comes to go-to-market impact. Other times, social “findings” are used as a drunk uses a lamppost—for support rather than illumination.

We have found that a chapter-driven approach to social media research is a much more effective and predictable way of driving real value from social listening. These six chapters go from the general to the specific, starting with broad market trends, and then moving on to competitor intelligence, partner insights, segment-level insights, and specific influencer identification and drill-down. Finally, these are all woven together into actionable strategies that can be deployed right away in go-to-market decisions across marketing, sales, and distribution.

  1. Market Trends: Top buyer, partner or competitor insights for the measuring period providing fast, actionable focus.
  2. Competitor Intel: Key insights on what your competitors are doing in the market to drive awareness or innovation.
  3. Partner Insights: 360 perspective that shows where partners are most passionately focused and where they are driving awareness for your brand.
  4. Segment / Vertical Opportunities: Core opportunities inside specific segments or industries where market is growing or needs have been identified.
  5. Core Influencers: Top catalysts for driving industry conversations representing industry interests or strategic partnerships.
  6. Actionable Strategies: Top insights for the period converted into tactics for short term actions or longer-term campaigns.

In this blog post (one of two), we cover the first three chapters in detail.

1) Market Trends

When it comes to market trends, it’s important to look for your buyer’s voice, not just industry news and reports. The core of really gathering social intelligence isn’t to deliver what everybody already knows is taking place. At the end of the day it’s asking yourself, “Well, so what?” and, “how does this affect buying decisions?”

Take a ransomware attack that recently hit the news, where we asked ourselves, “Well, where we can isolate the conversations around IT managers? Where can we isolate the conversations around IT buyers? “ At the end of the day, the big intelligence gathered wasn’t simply around the fact that there was a ransomware attack, it was the notion that the people affected by it were not able to raise the awareness internally that this was a significant event. IT professionals were at a loss with how to educate their senior level management around the need for increased budget for better ultimately internal network security products.

Again, this is not “secret information,” it’s knowing where to look. Translating this information into a plan, “We need to build partner awareness programs as a first step, as opposed to pushing network security products” is where there is value.

Market Trends

2) Competitor Intel

Most of our clients have some type of internal competitive or market intelligence. But most of the time it’s rather “vanilla” around press releases, stocks and bonds, events and product releases. What many are missing are the early signals or indicators of competitor’s next move.

Take the conversations around bitcoin, while the discussions around Bitcoin and Ethereum and blockchain are consistently ramping up, especially in the financial services vertical, a lot of brands (at the time of our analysis) were still basically just talking about whether or not they should dip into this. Whether or not they should in any way, shape, or form change their payment structures and ultimately their payment systems. We found that MasterCard was the only one out of the entirety of the competitive set that had actually dipped their foot into it to say, “We have actually already integrated blockchain in to our payment infrastructure.”

Translating this information into a plan, “How do we competitively set ourselves up around the topic of bitcoin, or against MasterCard in the next quarter?” is where there is value.

Competitor Intel

3) Partner Insights

This element is most often not measured at all – What are your partner’s doing from a digital perspective? And what are their customer’s saying? The value here is that at the end of the day, a partner may be actually holding on to subject matter expertise that could be significantly valuable to educating other partners in the space.

In the example below, Dimension Data was just one of a set of partner’s we analyzed. In fact, we found they spent nearly an entire month on site at the Tour De France because they had entered a team into the Tour De France. Now, that in itself might not be an interesting nugget. But, as we began drilling down into their conversations, we discovered they were actually on site with various mobile trucks holding seminars around the purpose of network security, data security, inside the professional sporting industry.

From a practical standpoint, if a vendor were to hold a monthly partner call, they may be looking for, well, what’s the content I can bring to the table every single month to educate my other partners? Just inviting this partner in to say, “Hey, talk to the rest of the partner ecosphere here about ultimately what the professional sporting industry is like.” This alone could enable other partners in their targeting efforts and spark ideas of industry specialization.

Partner Insights


Check back in for Part 2 of this blog where we cover the remaining three elements: Segment / Vertical Opportunities, Core Influencers and Actionable Strategies.


Debunking 3 Myths About Sourcing Market Intelligence From Social or Public Data

Invariably as I discuss market intelligence with a prospect the question gets asked, “So where do you source your data from?” I always cringe when that topic is broached. Not because I have any reservations about the strength of using social monitoring or publicly available web analytic sources, but because I know the stigma that has often been unfairly attached to these types of data.

The problem stems from the fact that social listening (also known as digital monitoring) is a practice that unfortunately had its label cemented when it was best (and only) known for tracking consumer sentiment against a brand name by looking at people’s posts, tweets, and comments in the realm of social media. Tech platforms emerged to help source the data, apply some form of language processing, and give a visual analysis of trends, sentiment, and key influencers. These technologies, because they were primarily about pulling tweets and Facebook posts, were quickly labeled as social monitoring platforms. Veterans of the industry can easily remember the painful experience of the Radian 6 “pre-Salesforce acquisition” platform and the agony of their blue dashboards.

Today, however, those platforms have evolved to sourcing an immense amount of data from multiple types of digital sources and their natural language processing (NLP) capabilities are highly evolved. Despite this, however, the practice, as well as the supporting platforms, are still labeled simply as “social” listening and people still assume the value of the data from these is limited, thereby leaving them, unfortunately, without some very strong and actionable intelligence.

“People still assume the value of the data from these is limited, thereby leaving them, unfortunately, without some very strong and actionable intelligence.”

To that end, I’d like to consider offering an argument against three of the most commonly assumed myths about what “social listening” can provide:

Myth #1 – Publicly Available Data is Not Valuable
Ever hear someone describe a recent car purchase not as “used” but rather as “new to me?” In that simple phrase is a powerful concept, namely that something’s value is primarily determined by it’s relation to the user’s needs and not by what the industry might try and force on a buyer. The same is true for market intelligence.

Consider this. Every second, the following takes place in the digital arena:

  • 60,532 GB of Internet Traffic
  • 68,851 Google Searches
  • 70,078 YouTube Videos Viewed
  • 8,153 Tweets
  • 863 Instagram Photos Posted

Think about the amount of content being created and viewed on a daily basis and how much your competitors are playing in this space and what might be learned by this (and these stats don’t even include blog postings, forum discussions, news releases, etc.) The point is that the question around value is based on what you are currently acquiring today in market intelligence. What are you discovering on a weekly basis about your competitors and the behaviors of your buyers? If the answer is “very little,” then market intelligence sourced from social data would be immensely valuable both from the aspect that it provides insights you are not currently holding, but also because of the types of information you might glean.

CASE STUDY: For one of our clients (Fortune 500) in the tech industry, public data led to the discovery that several of their partners / resellers were not addressing easily-identifiable problems that presented hurdles for buyers. The intelligence provided them data and information to meet with those partners and give them guidance on solving the issues and thereby help increase their own sales as a result. At the end of the day, the data was deemed “highly valuable” by our client given how fast it was sourced and how quickly it was able to be used to address a revenue issue.

Myth #2 – Extensive Must Mean Expensive
In the same way that old mindsets pervade about social data, the same is true about what needs to be spent on market intelligence. Companies have been held captive to the notion that in order to learn anything of value, they have to hire a massive firm to conduct a 6-month study that will carry a budget-devastating fee with it. The truth, however, is that in today’s digital world… much of what one of these firms will find from consumer outreach or black-box data purchases are likely already readily available online for those who know how to find it and able to be sourced for much less.

CASE STUDY: A large healthcare provider recently paused one of our intelligence briefings to inquire as to whether we had been made privy to the findings of a recent market study they had conducted and spent a significant amount of money on. The reason? Our data and findings were nearly identical in detail and summarization, despite having been sourced in a fraction of the time and at a fraction of the cost. The truth was that the findings in the more expensive study had already been researched by other intel firms and published in forums and blogs across multiple outlets and the queries we developed for social monitoring easily uncovered the data.

Myth #3 – Social Data Isn’t Useful for B2B
Because most people associate social data with the “voice of the consumer,” the assumption is that there is very little to gain in a B2B context because businesses rarely have a voice in the social space. While it is true that garnering direct conversations from a company is difficult, what needs to be remembered is that social and public data sources are now comprised of a significantly wider and deeper pipeline of content to include blogs, forums, commercial reviews and other source material. To the experienced analysts, these areas of content are just as viable to gleaning intelligence around how products are performing in the marketplace or where there are new revenue opportunities emerging.

CASE STUDY: A leading tech company in the document management space was looking to uncover potential new business opportunities. Through a series of intelligence briefings, it was discovered that law firms and legal offices were seeking to use new technologies as a means of reducing filing and document management requirements of their staff and convert the time of these resources to client-billable hours. The clearly defined target and the simple messaging around potential revenue impact resulted in a global channel partner call to ensure every possible outlet was informed and using this intelligence to pursue the market opportunity.

The goal here is not to present social monitoring/listening or public domain data as the silver bullet of intelligence. Traditional market studies still have their place and relevance. Instead, the takeaway is to educate the product marketer or sales leader about how much the digital content space has grown, and that the ability to mine that space for insights and intel has evolved with it. Using this intelligence to stay ahead of competitors, inform product development or empower sales enablement is a “must-have” for forward-thinking companies.

Check out our recent case study on how we helped a Fortune 500 finserv business leverage market intelligence to predict and plan competitive action >


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