Are You Driving Your Research or is Your Research Driving You?

by Shannon Paul on December 22, 2009

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As much as I love immersing myself in data and appreciate the guidance and insight it provides, I can’t help but ask: how much research is too much?

A Tale of Two Sodas

In his book, “Obsessive Branding Disorder“, author Lucas Conley compares the launch of Coca Cola’s C2 with the success of Peter van Stolk’s upstart, Jones Soda.

If you’re asking, “what’s Coke C2?” you’re not alone.

According to Conley, C2 launched in Summer 2004 at the peak of the low-carb craze with a major sponsorship of American Idol.

At that time, all the consumer product research indicated a rabid interest in a low carb soda and Coke responded with a multi-million dollar ad campaign to launch C2.

Coke’s C2, as well as the rival Pepsi Edge product, all but disappeared from shelves in about two years. The low carb craze was losing its appeal with consumers and most people didn’t really see the need to have a mid-calorie soda positioned between regular and diet.

While the biggest brand in the world was launching a new product that would secure a paltry 0.4 percent of the marketplace within a couple months after launch, a little upstart called Jones Soda grew its revenues by 70 percent in just two years.

Jones endeared itself to people by putting customer submitted snapshots on bottles of flavors like Salmon Pate, Wild Herb Stuffing and Turkey & Gravy… as well as others like Blue Bubblegum, Rootbeer and, (my favorite) Strawberry Lime.

The Future Will Always Be Difficult to Predict

Research on the front end would never indicate any consumer need for soda that tastes like a Thanksgiving turkey, salmon pate or any number of other Jones flavors that seem more a curiosity than a household commodity. In fact, any advance consumer surveys might have been enough to scare Peter van Stolk out of the idea to launch Jones Soda entirely.

With Social Media there is Still No Empirical Data

Let me be clear: I realize the example above is centered around product research specifically, and for the record I believe in the importance of research; especially marketing segmentation research that helps identify who your customers are, what they care about, and others to be considered for future outreach.

However, with social media specifically, so many companies are still sitting on the sideline trying to figure whether this type of engagement is right for them. Rather than focusing on individuals — people — they focus on the channel, or network. Plus, they seem to worry more about making a big splash out of the gate than learning as they go. Most companies and individuals who have experienced any amount of success with social media outreach can tell you that’s just not how this stuff typically works.

It may be hard to believe, but as we move into 2010, some businesses are still waiting — crunching theoretical numbers focused on specific social networks from years past while others are putting some solid, preliminary segmentation research to good use by getting to work, testing experimental ideas, measuring results, and repeating that process several times over.

Meanwhile, the clock keeps ticking…

In a few years, which companies will be better off? Those waiting for a critical mass, or those working the networks, forming connections and sowing the seeds for a meaningful online presence?

Photo Credit: The Rocketeer
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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

December 22, 2009 Jeff Marth 1

Ah yes, the “paralysis by analysis”. I’ve been guilty of it myself. The desire to prove, without a doubt, a particular action will provide the exact result I want before I am willing to do anything. But, social media is not an exact science with calculations. It’s a dynamic environment more akin to weather forecasting – where predictions are valid only for a limited frame of time and there is need for continuous review of metrics and desired outcomes.


December 22, 2009 Shannon Paul 2

Where were you when I was trying to write a headline?! Seriously, paralysis by analysis would have been great :-)


December 22, 2009 Veronica Sopher 3

IMHO, waiting for the critical mass = too late. Now is the time to start getting out there, while everyone else is still talking in circles, wondering, and fidgeting due to “lack of evidence.” There will never be “exact science.” Numbering people and putting them in piles shouldn’t be the 1st step when considering social media. It can start small. Social media doesn’t need to be a “campaign.” I agree with Frank Eliason in that brands should go to where the customers are already talking, and that’s why I visit industry related forums and *talk* to people. Or as you put it, “sowing seeds.” :) All these little things can’t always be measured, but it will all add up in the end.


December 22, 2009 Jeff Marth 4

Well said. Companies who wait for critical mass, before jumping into social media, will never reach it or only reach it after their competition already has.


December 22, 2009 Geekgiant 5

Well, Jones Soda is considering selling for about 2/3s of its current ask. I’m not sure what that means overall, just that I think it’s too early to call social media in general a success.

Lots of ups and downs to be had still.


December 22, 2009 jamiefavreau 6

“Some businesses are still waiting — crunching theoretical numbers focused on specific social networks from years past while others are putting some solid, preliminary segmentation research to good use by getting to work, testing experimental ideas, measuring results, and repeating that process several times over.”

I totally agree with this. I think unless you know where your audience is then the channel does not matter. It isn’t an exact science and it is hard to define. I have to write a proposal for a client and I have some experience and have read a lot but I am still learning. I hope I give him all he is looking for and win the bid since it is something I am very passionate about.

I hope the ones who are sewing the seeds and creating a community win over the ones who think this is a plug and play situation. You need to know your audience and they need to know you so they don’t think you are pushing your message on them.


December 22, 2009 Geekgiant 7

Let’s try this again since I’m very clearly under-caffeinated.

Just because research doesn’t yet exist, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try it. Especially with social media. One of its great advantages is that it can provide feedback and/or results in near real time.
Some people have asked me for the “silver bullet” of social media success. I’ve recently stopped saying there isn’t one when I realized that the silver bullet is just being fired from a .22, not a .50 caliber… a little slower, but it can still be deadly if aimed right.

It takes time, effort and a lot of innovation to be successful here and that’s what I think a lot of the “research” will show.


December 22, 2009 Mona Nomura 8

My greatest challenge has been applying metrics, conversion, and ROI into digital media practices, since I know how to do all this…”stuff” instinctually. I’d be lying if I said I can now articulate social media formulas, because I can not – still.

But what I CAN say for sure is the ROI is dependent on your goals, so there is no one sure fire pre-packaged way.


December 22, 2009 Ari Herzog 9


Jones Soda? I never heard of that. Coke C2, I have. What does that say?


December 23, 2009 Shannon Paul 10

It says you didn’t read the post beyond the second paragraph.


January 3, 2010 Medisoft 11

Not to defend him, but his point might have been that although Coke C2 didn’t make it, it was something he heard of, probably simply because of the Code brand. (I don’t know, just guessing)

Personally, I kind of liked C2, I hate diet, and C2 didn’t have much of the diet taste. Although I realize your article wasn’t “which is better”, just making a comment.


December 23, 2009 David Cameron 12

I couldn’t agree more. The day of the big launch may still be with us. I get the value of making a big splash from the outset. BUT, as you note, one can derive a ton of value through incremental work. Reminds me that branding and relationship building is a long-term investment. It’s a bit like the rabbit vs. the hare, right?

Research is not infallible, clearly. Examples abound of failed products backed by research. I don’t think one shouldn’t base decisions without any data at all, but I do think one must be prepared to take calculated risks.

Great post, Shannon. Happy holidays.


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