J.D. Power 'AIMS' To Track Social Media

Finbarr O'Neill

When J.D. Power and Associates (JDP) acquired Web intelligence firm Umbria in 2008, the Westlake Village, Calif. market research firm was staking a claim in social media. Now, the company is launching its first social-media research product, the Auto Intelligence Monitor (AIM).

Finbarr O'Neill, who became the firm's president last year, says the new social-media barometer is evidence of JDP's efforts to become a holistic market research firm: If surveys "ask" and clickstream data "watches," then AIM -- which includes a desktop-based dashboard -- "listens," combining data and insight from social media conversations about automaker brands and models with marketplace retail sales and segment data from the Power Information Network.

The Monitor, per the company, covers consumer buzz on things like "green" issues, safety, performance, styling and design, value, features and technology, manufacturer business issues and marketing and communications efforts. O'Neill, one-time head of Hyundai Motor America, draws a big picture for Marketing Daily.

Q: How big a change is this for J.D. Power, in terms of what the firm has been doing for years?

A: The data is certainly different. It's a very qualitative medium, so it has been a challenge for J.D. Power researchers, who are traditionally quantitative, to understand exactly how you "productize" this. [The Auto Intelligence Monitor] is a good example of how you can do that -- how you can deliver flexibility and understanding about consumer sentiment to the client.

Q: How is J.D. Power's product different from competitive social-media research?

A: The initial social media products were dashboard products around volume, but without a lot of analytics. The science does take you a certain distance -- the algorithms will pull out data -- but you need people who are good annotators, who are good at writing queries, to capture all of the conversations across the Internet. And at the end of the day, someone has to analyze it. If you're Toyota, for instance, you want to understand what people are saying -- not just that they are talking about you. Actually, we found that there's a lot of positive stuff out there being said about Toyota, by consumers.

Q: Is it going to be hard to sell this to auto marketers?

A: Our clients are embracing this as another source of understanding the voice of the consumer. We are seeing changes in market research where clients are looking much more broadly for a more holistic view of the consumer. So we have to be able to circle around [a client's consumers], listen to what they are saying, ask them questions, watch what they do, and triangulate around those various sources of information to get a better insight on what they intend.

The good news is the auto industry in particular is used to using qualitative data in terms of product design. Companies have done clinics for a long time; they've done ethnographic studies observing peoples' behavior in their day-to-day lives. So this is a little different, but it has tremendous value because it does capture the unprompted voice of the consumer. It's kind of like the ethnographer who goes to live with the family and is listening to everything they do. Here we are listening to what people are saying over their virtual back fence to one another.

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