Five Questions You Can Answer with Social Data to Find Opportunities For Innovation

Some of the most valuable social intelligence use cases we’ve seen are from product innovation studies. From identifying what quality means in a given product category, to developing products that answer the frustrations of consumers, and even identifying the next big trend up to six months in advance. Social data is being recognised as a quick method to identify opportunities and test assumptions at the start of the innovation development process. In this article, we explore five questions that you can use to find innovation opportunities for your brand.

What are the triggers and barriers relating to use of your product category?

Not only should you gain a deeper understanding of what triggers consumers to buy your product, but also what gets in the way of people making the purchase. The trouble is that it can be difficult for consumers to consciously “voice” what triggers them to make a purchase or what stops them from doing so. However, with social data you can find subtle cues to what’s driving your customers behaviour, even if they cannot consciously voice it to you in an interview.  

Purchase triggers can be motivated by external or internal factors – environmental changes or psychological needs. In one study, I found that the external triggers for mattress purchases were moving home, renovating bedrooms or by mattresses breaking. Whereas the emotional triggers all centred around pain. To help find your internal, emotional triggers, think about segmenting the data by:

Fear: is there a specific fear that your consumer holds that drives their purchase decision in your product category?
Time: What is your consumers relationship to time in your product category?
Trust: What does trust and quality look like in your product category?
Guilt: Does the consumer come with any feelings of guilt to the purchase decision?
Belonging: What is the consumer trying to achieve with the purchase? Is there a specific group they want to belong to?
Value: What does value look like in your product category?

Some purchase barriers might already be known to you, for example, price is usually a barrier that features regularly. However, there may be other underlying barriers preventing your consumers from purchasing. Going back to my mattress study, I found that barriers to purchase for the new-mattress-in-a-box style mattresses came from the perception of foam being too hot and of poor quality. Many consumers had pre-existing perceptions of the mattresses because of past experience with other foam style mattresses.  

What are the choice drivers relating to when your product category is bought and used?

We know that consumers look to purchase products and brands that are relevant to their needs. But the way they make choices are more complex than price, quality or availability. Exploring the choice drivers of your product category will help you better understand motivations, as well as highlighting where there are innovation gaps waiting to be filled. 

Sometimes you may think that one choice driver or product attribute has a higher weighting on consumer behaviour than it actually does. For example, in a recent webinar, Brandwatch found that while many people are talking about plastic waste online and their desire to reduce their plastic consumption, in reality when it comes to viewing the importance of sustainability in purchase decisions, sustainability is low down on the choice drivers. 

Social data can be a great way to identify choice drivers, but they should also be put into context and weighted against each other to determine which is most important for different groups of consumers. I personally love researching purchase heuristics using review data. 

What is the ease of use and the unmet needs relating to the use of your product category?

In order to understand consumer needs in a way that makes innovation predictable, it is argued that companies should stop focusing on the product or the customer, and instead focus on the underlying process or “job” the customer is trying to get done. By understanding the whole job the customer is trying to get done rather than just part of it, you’ll reveal critical unmet needs. This approach will identify hidden opportunities that can be easily addressed through new innovation.

For example, C&A marketing has developed a process that analyses reviews from Amazon and eBay to identify customer frustrations and most requested features for different products. What’s important here is that they analyse the full line of products available, not just a certain brand. C&A believe that sites like Amazon and eBay are not just places to sell, but actually giant laboratories – and I have to agree.  

What are the moments of switching in your product category?

What drives customers in your product category to switch supplier? We’re talking more than broadly knowing ‘value for money’ or ‘brand positioning’, we’re talking specific details for your product category and your competitors. Find the moments of switching behaviour and innovate products and marketing communications in these areas, but make sure you live up to your promises.

What are the upcoming trends in your product category?

We’d all love to be able to predict the future and get ahead of the curve to cash-in on new trends before the competition. Using social data as a way to predict which early trends will grow versus those that fizzle away has, until now, been elusive. 

We recently reported on a partnership Converseon and In4mation Insights to convert social media data into a platform for ingredient, flavor, color and packaging trends predictions. This work has discovered critical steps that are needed to identify trends up to six months in advance. Social data trends analysis should definitely be on your radar for innovation opportunities.

Some advice before you get started

Like with other forms of research, when it comes to social intelligence research in innovation contexts, it’s important to conduct a category level analysis as well as a brand level analysis. Looking beyond mentions of your own brand and product (or your competitors) can be a better way of understanding the wider behaviors of your marketplace. 

You can gain an understanding of how people talk, and the triggers and drivers of behaviour surrounding the product category. Then you can move into understanding how each of the brands in the category are perceived against the behaviors in the wider product category group.

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Jillian Ney
Jillian Ney
Dr Jillian is the founder of The Social Intelligence Lab. She has worked in the social intelligence industry for over a decade as researcher, consultant, spokesperson and author. She's on a mission to bring the industry together and give social intelligence the place it deserves as a recognised and supported discipline. Ask her about digital behavioural science, purchasing decisions and why Scotland is the best place on earth. More content by

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