“Change is around us.”

These were the opening words of Joel Windels, Brandwatch’s VP of inbound marketing, when I attended his talk about social data at the Festival of Marketing today. 

He was specifically there to discuss the role that social data is increasingly playing in digital transformation, and what the opportunities are for brands. 

Joel Windels festival of marketing

Change is inevitable 

“People see (change) as something scary,” Windels argues. “But the way people communicate has evolved. 

It’s not just verbal language anymore. You’ve got emojis and Gifs and video content: the way customers and businesses talk to each other has fundamentally changed.

The question is not whether change is happening, then, but rather how businesses are going to adapt to it if they want to survive. 

Windels refers to when the telephone first came about. At first it was a luxury that only the wealthy could afford, but by the 50s it became much more of a commodity and suddenly people were talking on the phone rather than meeting in person. 

When there are changes in society there is a responsibility for business to change with them.

Once it was clear the telephone was here to stay, the smartest businesses adapted and provided easy ways for their customers to contact them over the phone. 

This illustrates a point that can be linked to the world of social data now: it’s not just about reacting to a trend, it’s about transforming the technology and the way you do things to get the most out of it. 


Amazon vs. Walmart

Windels compared two brands: one digital native (Amazon) and one that is very traditional (Walmart) to illustrate how data can actually make a brand more appealing to its individual customers. 

“Walmart can’t personalise deals to you when you walk through the shop door because they simply don’t have the capability. 

Amazon knows what you spend, when you browse, what you want to buy, and much more. So it is a much more useful business for me, the customer.

What is happening now?

Let’s take a look at the four most valuable uses of social data that Windels covered in his talk.

1. Spotting patterns in conversation

Windels mentioned a retailer in the US who, when there was a shooting outside one of its stores, found out through social 10 minutes quicker than it would have if it had waited for the official police call.


Then there was a food brand in France that didn’t list a meat element in a supposedly vegetarian product because it legally didn’t have to. 

When the news broke out it made the front page in France, but had the food brand studied conversations on social media it could have reacted to the problem earlier and dealt with it before it blew up.

2. Reactive customer experiences

Windels talked about banking brands as an example of this, whereby they can use data from social conversations to find out when cash points are broken and so on. 

But one of the most interesting case studies he brought up was from Argos.

They got rid of the ‘laminated book of dreams’ and replaced it with iPads, but they didn’t know how people would react. 

Argos catelogue

“Market research is too slow,” Windels argues. “But using social data, Argos actually listened to what people were saying in stores and reacted accordingly.”

Argos found significant regional differences in preference by studying social data.

In the North of England, for example, people wanted the human interaction element back, so Argos hired more staff and focused on customer relationships. 

But in London people wanted to get in and out quickly without any hassle, so Argos adapted those stores to suit this preference. 

The idea of changing your brand and operations based on what people are thinking and saying is powerful.

3. Market research 

Windels referred to Sony’s marketing campaign for its first e-reader. It assumed its usual target audience of young males would apply.

But after releasing the product, Sony studied social media conversations and realised it was women who were interested. 

So it adapted the product to better suit that segment and then re-released it with a new marketing campaign. 

Windels believes this is a strong example of how powerful social data can be.

“Sony actually changed a product based on what the market wanted and how it reacted.”

4. Strategic sales

One of the most interesting points from the session was around how companies can find things out about their customers that aren’t related to their brand.  

A clothing brand, for example, could look at people’s social profiles to understand who they are and what they do when they’re not buying the clothing brand’s products.

Then that brand could target those customers based on what they know the customer likes. 

If you can engage with people in a way that’s relevant and interesting to them you’re much more likely to get a sale.

What will happen in future?

The most interesting point of the talk, for me, was around the potential future link between social brand value and the actual share price of a company.

But even now we can already see social data completely changing the way businesses approach certain things, and Windels uses ice cream as an example to illustrate this point.

Conventional wisdom has always been that you sell more ice creams when it’s sunny. But we worked with a brand to map social data and found that most ice cream is actually eaten when it’s raining.

These kinds of findings have the potential to completely flip old ideas on their head, and it shows how valuable this kind of data can be as a new way of looking at things. 

It is for that reason that Windels believes brands should act now in order not to be left behind. 

“Think back to the telephone example,” he says.  

89% of businesses say social data will be essential within three years. You don’t want to end up being the Kodak of today.  

“Social media started in the marketing team, but now it’s spreading and becoming something everyone can use. It doesn’t matter what department you’re in, social data is valuable to everyone.”