Vox Pop: Is Digital Consumer Intelligence more hype from technology companies or will it really transform customer insights?

Another day another buzzword, another technology telling you that they can get you better, quicker customer insight. Is it all hype or is there some truth to what they are selling?

Today we explore the opinions on Brandwatch’s move into Digital Consumer Intelligence. We asked our experts, “is Digital Consumer Intelligence more hype from technology companies or will it really transform customer insights?”

Jeremy Hollow, Founder, Listen+Learn Research

“What another one!?!”, Brenda from Bristol.

Social media monitoring, Social Listening, Social Intelligence, Digital Consumer Intelligence. It sometimes feels that the ink’s not dry on a term before we’re being encouraged to adopt a new one.

I’ve got mixed feelings about this latest iteration.

On the plus side. It’s a great time to be in consumer insight. We’re moving from a pure stimulus-response model of research (I ask, you respond) to a broader, potentially more integrated one. One where digital and social tech has brought observational data into the mix. This feels like the promise of Digital Consumer Intelligence.

But we’re still working out how this all works, and how it will fit in. For Digital Consumer Intelligence to become widely adopted I think it’ll need to address a few challenges.

Where is the actual difference? Market research agencies have been using and integrating digital technologies for decades. Adding a survey platform to a listening platform is interesting, but hardly revolutionary.

The core offer needs to improve: There are some serious challenges (data access and quality, meaningful analysis, insight creation) that Social Listening still needs to address. Prove we can get this right and we’ll have the credibility to expand.

Adoption moves slowly: Marketing orthodoxy tells us it’s easier to sell new products to existing customers than anything else. Hence the rush for providers to sell the new. However, it takes time for people to become aware of, consider, trial and then adopt a new approach. The time from finding a new methodology, to it becoming ‘business as usual’ is usually measured in years. Constantly changing how we talk about ourselves risks diluting the message and confusing our audience.

If the idea and practice of Digital Consumer Insights solves these challenges, then why not adopt it as a broader definition.  If it can’t, then we’re in danger of losing credibility by endlessly rebranding, without reliably delivering on our core purpose.


Eric Michelson, Social Listening Development Insights Expert

First, it’s time to rethink the word consumer.  We are entering a post-consumer society where the accumulation of stuff and the chasing of branded merchandise and experiences is slowly revealing itself as hollow activities.  We know this because of the increasing understanding of numerous global crises such as climate change, declining birth rates, wealth inequality and plastics everywhere in our global environment.  Much of this is driven by marketing messaging that is purposely mute to the consequences of endless consumption.


What people do increasingly understand is that change is needed.  There are many ideas for change but it’s hard to erase over a century of modern marketing science in tandem with commercial conceptualizations around freedom that is now deeply embedded in our collective psyches.  So developing consensus solutions for fixing things is, understandably, very hard.
What the question should be: “Is leveraging layered digital data and metadata by, about, and around people just hype from technology companies moving into market research or can it really help customer insights functions?”
It can help and it can also hurt – a lot either way. If we continue traveling around the racetrack we’re on now, layering ever more data from surveys, mobile phones, store trackers, location beacons, biometric data, web cookies, Alexas and all the other tools of surveillance capitalism into an AI-powered, algorithmic complex that few understand, then wrapping them in highly tested marketing packages and further “nudging” prospects with psychological tricks, then no.  It only perpetuates the illusion of wealth we indulge.  Ultimately only the interests of a select few are served.  And even then, just temporarily.

If the goal of the insights practitioner or firm is to drive better understanding of what a company’s customers’ want AND that company uses those insights to meet those needs without creating problems that their customers, employees, and shareholders end up paying for in other ways (such as in taxes, gifts to charities or lawsuits to clean up these problems) then yes.  But this takes generosity, morality, and wisdom with the ability to think beyond the brand.


Giles Palmer, CEO, Brandwatch

Digital Consumer Intelligence is not hype. It is our attempt to put a name to some big trends that are changing the way businesses work.

It starts with how the internet has changed consumer-driven research and purchases. The access to information has shifted the game and consumers now have far more choice and power than ever before. As such they are migrating to the companies that understand their needs and serve them with high-quality solutions at the best price.

For businesses, this shift can be brutal as competition is more intense than ever. So how can companies improve their chance of success? One clear way is for them to understand their customers and target markets as deeply as they can in order to track and analyze how these audiences are changing every year or even every month. The only way this is possible is by using technology. In the same way that consumers use search engines to navigate the complex choice-landscape they face, companies need insight engines to understand what consumers are seeing and how they are feeling and behaving.

That’s what DCI is. It’s a fundamental ingredient for success in this new connected world


Get Involved

What’s your opinion about Digital Consumer Intelligence as new the new terminology to be used? More hype or something deeper to help insights professionals? Have your say on our latest debate here.

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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