Brand Monitoring is Not Research

Over the last 18 months there has been a mainstreaming of SM ideas, marketing, monitoring and research among the big brand owners of the Fortune 500. (Our business at MotiveQuest used to be 70% Agency/30% Brands and now it is 70% Brands/30% Agency) Along with this mainstreaming comes increased understanding of the different kinds of tools available for use.

As this market matures, companies are beginning to understand the distinction between brand monitoring and brand research. We now have three major clients who have asked us to collaborate with their dashboard provider in order to optimize the results they are getting from their dashboards.

I am asked almost daily by new and existing clients to discuss the distinction between brand monitoring and brand research.

My definitions here:

Brand Research:
Analyzing naturally occurring online categories of conversation to better understand why people do what they do, the role of brands in their lives and the product, branding and communications implications for brand owners.

Brand Monitoring: Tracking online brand mentions on a daily basis for PR, operations and customer service outreach.

Brand Research:
This is what we do at MotiveQuest. We call our research Online Anthropology because it is purely observational. We gather and analyze millions of online conversations from the web to build a model of how the world works. We are going well beyond buzz, topics & sentiment and looking for the underlying human issues, motivations, needs and drivers within a category. We then analyze the competitive dynamics within the category among competing brands. Our goal is to help our clients (brand owners) know what to do next by having a deeper understanding of what matters most within their category and how their brand can relate to/own that.

We can’t do our work without a broad sophisticated toolkit and a team of experienced strategists.  One of the fundamental challenges in analyzing large amounts of unstructured text data is that you simply can’t make sense of it in any sort of manual fashion.  Sophisticated software tools are the answer, but how those tools are developed and deployed makes a difference.

  1. Language is fluid over time and across categories.  Tools must be too.  Every one of our tools is parameter driven and allows the strategist to adjust the linguistic model and other parameters for the category and project at hand.
  2. Simple measures (buzz, topics & sentiment) are not useful for understanding why people do what they do.
  3. Understanding requires more sophisticated tools.   That is why we have tools for passion peaking, measuring motivations, word association, brand advocacy and many, many others. 
  4. We have many tools available, but the tools used and the order of use is very project dependent.
  5. The tools are just tools and the work is only as good as the person using the tools. We have a deep team of experienced researchers & marketing strategists who use these tools to answer the business questions of our clients.
  6. The output must have specific, actionable ideas, insights and recommendations for our clients against the business problem we started with originally. These tend to be in the area of branding, communication, innovation and measurement.


Brand Monitoring:
Brand monitoring is the clipping service, customer complaint line and suggestion box of the 21st century all rolled into one. Powerful software tools to track online mentions of your brand, score them for influence, relevance, sentiment and necessary action and feed all of that into a workflow for PR, Operations and Customer Service. I believe that every major brand should be using these tools aggressively. (Marshall Sponder over at WebMetricsGuru and Nathan Gilliatt over at the The Net-Savvy Executive are doing a great job of covering the brand monitoring/dashboard space. (Minor brands should be monitoring too, but perhaps by using the free services like I do for MotiveQuest – more on that here.)

Commentary: The best companies in the brand monitoring business have put together very powerful tools for monitoring, scoring, outreach and reporting. As with most powerful tools, they are non-trivial to implement. There are a couple of dimensions of complexity to consider including:

  1. Brand Mentions: Including the data you want and excluding the data you don’t want ranges from easy (simple, unambiguous name like MotiveQuest) to extremely hard. Consider the rental car category. The leading brands are Dollar, National, Budget, Enterprise and Hertz. 4 of the 5 are very challenging terms to disambiguate.
  2. Context: Sometimes the brand mentions are a very small part of the overall conversation. Food brand mentions tend to be less than 5% of the conversation. In cars it is about 40%. In both cases you lose half or more of all the relevant category conversation by just collecting brand mentions.
  3. Linguistic Coding: We did a project for Visa looking at the Beijing Olympics. We had to build a linguistic string with >250 arguments to include Visa the credit card brand and exclude Visa the travel document, both of which were highly co-related with the Beijing Olympics.
  4. Data Sources: There appear to be significant discrepancies in data coverage for the different tools. Also, you need to consider the data source to know what to do. Twitter is different from a blog which is also different from a forum.
  5. Scoring: There also seem to be significant discrepancies in sentiment scoring across the tools.
  6. Implementation: If you are going to maximize the benefit of implementing a brand monitoring tool, you are going to need to have cross-departmental involvement from your marketing, PR, customer service, operations, legal and product teams. This is a very significant challenge.

There is no question that all brands need to be using SM for both monitoring and for research. There will be many other new tools and uses that pop up in the next few years, and the challenge is to help our clients understand how each of these tools fits into their toolbox. This space is just too big, diverse, dynamic and pervasive for there to be a single solution for all client needs.




12 Responses to Brand Monitoring is Not Research

  1. Mike Spataro says:


    You’re so right. It’s interesting how some people confuse the two. Social media data collection can lead to great brand research, but it’s not an automatic process. That is why you are starting to see some software providers bulk up their internal research teams and capabilities, but as you know there is no silver bullet in the marketplace today. Thanks for the insightful read.


  2. tomob says:

    Hi Mike:

    Thanks for the comment – I think the mindsets of SaaS providers vs. a research company are so very different that it will be hard for the software providers to do this as well as specialized research firms.

    OTOH we have been talking about getting into the dashboard business for 6 years now – but wisely avoid competing with you guys!


  3. Tom,

    Monitoring and research are different, but the lines get blurry, especially as monitoring gets deeper and more analytical. The key distinction seems to be the skill and mindset of the people working with the tools and data. The question is, as client-side analysts gain skill and experience, where’s the natural boundary between DIY and DIFM?


  4. tomob says:

    @ Nathan – I think you are right about that – the lines do blur – hence the confusion.

    Regarding client side analysts, I think that some large organizations with lots of demand for SM Analysis will be able to afford to have in-house expertise. But I don’t think there are many of these.

    The problem is two-fold. First, if linguistic coding and natural language processing isn’t something you do every day, it is kind of hard to be an expert. The second is that the tools are built for aggregation and reporting. That is not sufficient for analysis and understanding.

    Given how long it takes us to get a new strategist up to speed, and the cost of hiring them in the first place, and the cost of the tools I don’t think many clients will do this in house.

    Finally, in SM research I don’t think it pays to be a category expert, as much as to be a research expert. We follow the data rather than having a pre-conceived notion of how the world works. Becoming a category (1 company) expert actually works against you.

    My $0.02.

  5. […] Tom O’Brian makes an interesting distinction between monitoring and going beyond in a recent blog post where he defines each in the following […]

  6. Sam Flemming says:

    well said….thanks for this Tom.

  7. Karl Long says:

    I’m not sure I would make such a distinction between brand monitoring and brand research, I see them as just different ends of a spectrum that runs the gamut from tactical to strategic. Clearly brand monitoring drives tactical decision making and deep brand research is going to inform more strategic decision making, but I don’t believe there is a binary distinction. We’re doing some work on understanding the correlation between “brand buzz” and “brand involvement” with some fascinating results 🙂 Anyway, thanks for the great article and i’ll be interested to see how this nascent field develops.


  8. tomob says:

    @Sam – thanks for the comment – you have been at this long enough to know!

    @Karl – thanks for commenting here. I agree with you that this is a spectrum, but when I get an RFP every week from a large organization that wants 1 tool to do everything from brand monitoring to research – there is much confusion still in the marketplace.

    To your point, sometimes brand monitoring can lead to insights and even morph to research, but brand monitoring is still the 21st century version of complaint line, suggestion box and PR Clipping service all rolled into one, delivered via the web real time. And that isn’t research.


  9. Babar Bhatti says:

    Today’s technology for sentiment analysis has limitations. That does not mean that it is not useful for research and/or monitoring. My views here:
    10 Ways to Effectively Use Sentiment Analysis

    CEO, MutualMind.

  10. R. Paul Singh says:

    This is a great post and I am glad to see finally someone putting this difference so clearly. We at Serendio develop software for deeper analytics of social media and many a times struggle with customers’ understanding being restricted to monitoring as the be all end all. I am hoping with posts like this and evangelizing from many of us will change that over time.

    The question we are struggling with and may be you can help throw some light here is. Would customers go to do it themselves model and so software has to continue to keep pace with it or will this continue to be a market where smart companies like MotiveQuest and others will always be front ending and using a basket of tools and help customers make sense of the data. At this point we have put our bet on the second but would love to hear your opinion as I am sure you see both sides in your business.

    R Paul Singh

  11. tomob says:

    Hi R. Paul:

    Thanks for your comment. I guess we see this difference so clearly because we don’t have any kind of monitoring dashboard offering. Research is all we do.


  12. […] takes place with the help of mediums like forums, blogs, group discussions, chat rooms and others. Brand monitoring is way of managing and protecting a […]

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