Communication technologies have deeply affected the buying behavior of the modern customer.. They have created an obligation on businesses to find ways of dealing with these developments. Businesses are increasingly exploring new approaches and tools to keep up. This is where netnography – which is basically ethnography applied to the web – has become popular.
Netnography has emerged as a much faster, more efficient and reliable means of creating buyer personas. Netnography uses location-based social media data (geotagged) to analyze the social interactions and choices of customers based on a defined area. You can select your location, and collect all kinds of public data from people within that area.
The Definition of netnography
Netnography is the branch of ethnography (the scientific description of the customs of individual people and cultures) that analyses the free behaviour of individuals on the Internet. Netnography uses online marketing research techniques to provide useful insights. The term was coined by Robert Kozinets.
Netnography compiles and analyzes data about the free social behavior of individuals on the Internet. The key is data collection when consumers are behaving freely. This is in contrast to research surveys in which consumers sometimes respond to prevent embarrassment or please the surveyor. Netnography is useful to generate buyer persona research reports. The reports contain entirely objective data that are real indicators of lifestyle, product, and brand choices. The research analysts can compile the data and then create profiles of buyer personas for your product or service.
Advantages of using netnography
It is an incredible tool for marketers because the data is compiled quickly and accurately. The advantage of netnography is that traditional research can sometimes take months to compile and analyze whereas, using tools netnography can be performed much faster. By the time you obtain data from traditional research seldom, your buyer personas may have probably already changed a little. Or sometimes the change maybe drastic.
So, in a short span of time, you know who your most profitable customers are. You also find out what they are interested in right at that moment, and how and why they are interacting with others. Netnography helps to deliver critical data about your most profitable customers. This includes their household income, ethnicity, pain points, goals, influences, activities, hobbies, and more other such demographic data. You have tools that also tell you about their web search history and the top five keywords you can use to reach them.
As a method netnography is faster, simpler and less expensive than traditional ethnography. It is also more natural and inconspicuous than focus groups or other forms of interviews. It provides detailed information about the consumption patterns of online customers.
Online customer study methods
Marketing researchers use a variety of methods to study consumers. Qualitative methods are particularly useful for revealing the richly symbolic world that underlies needs,
desires, meanings, and choice.
The most popular qualitative methods are focus groups, personal interviews, and “market-oriented ethnography” – Arnould and Wallendorf.
While market-oriented ethnography is an important technique that focuses on the behavior of the people who form the market for a product or service, it is a time-taking and extensive method. It requires considerable skill and substantial investments of researcher resources. Because it involves in-person researcher participant-observation, market-oriented ethnography is also an intentionally and unavoidably intrusive method that prevents observation of naturally situated consumer behavior.
Online customer groups increasing by the day
Customers making product and brand decisions are increasingly turning to online communication to base their decisions. Besides advertising and corporate web-sites, customers are using newsgroups, chat rooms, e-mail list servers, personal web-pages, and other online formats. Customers use them to share ideas, build communities, and contact fellow customers. Often other users are more objective information sources for your customers.
Well, these are not just virtual communities.
“These social groups have a ‘real’ existence for their participants, and thus have consequential effects on many aspects of behavior, including consumer behavior” – Muniz and O’Guinn
Marketing interest in netnography
Hence the marketing interest in the online customer groups has been growing exponentially, the reason behind this marketing interest is infact twofold. First, marketers recognize the increasing importance of the Internet and of customers that are active in online communities. The major factor influencing positive brand value for one brand over another is customer advocacy. Online communities are places in which customers often engage in conversations whose goals include efforts to inform and influence fellow consumers about products and brands.
Secondly, one of the major purposes of marketing research is to identify and understand the tastes, desires, relevant indications and decision-making influences of particular customers. The advent of networked computing has initiated new opportunities for market-oriented consumer communications. It is also opening up opportunities for marketing researchers to study the tendencies, goals and other requirements of consumers interacting in online communities.
The netnography methodology
Market-oriented ethnography can be efficiently conducted online using existing online communities, without interfering with the natural human behavior. As a marketing research technique, netnography uses the information publicly available in online forums. They use this data to identify and understand the demands and decision influences of relevant online customer groups.
Two important steps to take care of
There are two initial steps that market researchers will find useful as preparation for conducting a netnography. First, researchers must have specific marketing research questions and then identify particular online forums appropriate to the types of questions that are of interest to them. Secondly, they must learn as much as possible about the forums, the groups, and the individual participants they seek to understand. Distinct from traditional ethnographies, in the identification of relevant communities online search engines will prove valuable.
Choosing online communities
After identifying the suitable online communities, the researchers can judge among them using criteria specifically suitable to the investigation. Generally, the preferred online communities have either,
- a more focused and research question relevant segment, topic or group,
- higher traffic,
- larger numbers of anonymous message posters,
- more detailed or descriptively rich data, and
- more customer interactions
These evaluations require an important adaptation of ethnography to the online context. Their use distinguishes the method of netnography from traditional ethnography.
Before initiating contact or data collection, the characteristics (group membership, market-oriented behaviors, concerns, preferences and language) of the online communities should be familiar to the marketing researcher.
Data collection and analysis
There are at least two important elements to this data collection:
- The data that the researcher directly copies from the computer-mediated communications of online community members.
- The data that the researcher inscribes regarding his or her observations of the community, its members, interactions and meanings.
As a distinct advantage from traditional ethnographers, netnographers benefit from the nearly automatic transcription of downloaded documents. With the addition of greatly lower search costs than face-to-face ethnography, especially in purely observational forms of netnography, data is often abundant and easy to gather. In this environment, the netnographer’s choices of which data to save and which to persevere are essential. They should be based on the problem being addressed and available resources.
Online communities devoted to consumption-related topics are an increasingly important source of data for marketing research. We can define these groups as individual market segments. As purchase and consumption decisions are discussed and debated in online communities, it is important that marketing researchers have precise and ethical methodological procedures to collect and interpret this data in a challenging context.
Netnography can be your useful, flexible and ethical solution to studying people online. Understanding customer motivations through online behavior study will prove very useful for your business.