Customers Who Like Santa Also Like…Nicotine Gum?


Social media is a limitless focus group. Each tweet, like, post, or comment represents an active decision by a person to interact with another person, brand, or TV program culminating in a detailed individual profile. The data provides marketers the opportunity to observe people in their native environments — their own social groups and with brands — while also tracking shifts in taste and behavior over time. Combining trillions of these data points provides unprecedented insight into consumer interests and predictive associations.

We are still discovering new types of insights that can be drawn from this “data-in-the-wild” environment. One of the most startling is the unexpected relationships that exist across the varied interest areas of social media users.

Marketers have long sought to uncover these relationships — if you know that NASCAR fans are likely to enjoy barbecue cooking, for example, then you probably want to sell ads or

promotions for a new hot sauce that target this audience. But it turns out that social media turns up all sorts of unpredictable and unexpected correlations.

In addition to providing a more holistic understanding of a brand’s consumers, these non-obvious relationships enable marketers to reach untapped consumers in an addressable way and at a reduced cost. For ambitious marketers, this means tailoring campaigns around each high priority interest.

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At 4C, for example, we have built a database from Facebook and Twitter that allows us to gather consumer affinities across 1.5 billion individuals, 50,000 brands, and more than 40 languages. Here are a few examples of startling connections that our data analytics have uncovered:

Santa Claus and nicotine gum. Through social media data we found that people who were interested in a popular smoking cessation product were also interested in Santa Claus. In fact, people engaging with Santa Claus content on Facebook and Twitter were 355 times more likely to respond to messages from the brand. Our theory behind this connection is that smokers with children were thinking about quitting around the holidays. But it wasn’t necessary to know the precise reason. The data stood on its own. Once this connection was revealed, the brand was able to follow up with a creative ad campaign: “Get off the naughty list. Quit smoking today.”

Neil deGrasse Tyson and Hillary Clinton. A common question is how candidates can strengthen their campaign with voters. Our data suggests that Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton should seek some rather unexpected celebrity endorsements. By tracking consumers’ social engagements with Clinton and other public figures they engaged on social, we discovered that her short list should include actors and late-night hosts such as Robert Downey Jr., Chris Pratt, Jimmy Kimmel, and Conan O’Brien. However — it’s astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson who tops the list.

Williams-Sonoma and Mad Men. The brands that resonated most with Mad Men viewers are as diverse as they are unpredictable, with DirecTV coming in fifth and furniture giant IKEA fourth. The top three spots vary even more widely; Old Spice was in third place; Greek yogurt brand Chobani was in second, and high-end housewares leader Williams-Sonoma took the top spot. At least this last brand seems explicable: perhaps Mad Men’s 1960’s luxury homemaking inspired a number of high-end home chefs.

As a best practice, marketers should assess newly discovered affinities and run them through a filter of a) is it plausible? and b) is it a fit for my brand? The next step is running an A/B test for the new audience segment. From there, if the results show the new audience outperformed the old, expand the scope of the campaign and think about other ways to apply the insights across the enterprise. For example, once you know there’s a connection with Santa Claus and have seen proven results from targeting that audience online, you might want to do special holiday themed product packaging and perhaps price promotion as well.

Traditional focus groups are a blunt instrument — artificial, quickly out of date, and with a high margin of error given that they survey only a tiny slice of a target population. The limitless focus group of social media can offer a far more refined, accurate and up-to-date resource to marketers. Instant and ongoing feedback on products and trends, better advertising effectiveness, and better targeting are all some of its benefits. Social media embodies the central promise of Big Data and the opportunity to be smarter by recognizing patterns we never could have imagined before.