Back in the 1980s London agency BBH came up with a brilliant ad campaign that is now their corporate mantra. The ad was for Black Levi’s and featured a single black sheep in a flock of white ones. The strap-line ran: “When the world zigs, zag”.

Identify a gap in the market and fill it with something different enough to be exciting but relevant enough to sell: this has long been the holy grail of marketing.

When the world zigs, zag - BBH campaign for Black Levi's, 1982
When the world zigs, zag – BBH campaign for Black Levi’s, 1982

In the past, the best ideas depended on sheer creativity and gut instinct as much as market research. Today’s brands have an always-on, direct line to their customers.

By listening to what’s being said on social media, brand owners can build up a detailed picture of people’s loves, hates, passions and desires. They can look to Twitter for customer service complaints, Pinterest for intention to buy, Facebook for just about everything.

This wealth of information simply wasn’t available a decade ago. Now brand-owned content is just one (shrinking) part of an ecosystem that’s increasingly dominated by social conversations, review sites and user forums.

Understand this ecosystem, and you’ll know how to develop your product, as well as the messaging around it.

The voice of the customer and its impact are the key focus for marketers, says Brandwatch in a new guide for Chief Marketing Officers, published today.

The guide shows how customer perceptions and feedback can be gathered through social listening and analysed in order to identify “blind spots…an area your brand can move into”.

The Black Levi’s campaign is referenced, along with the positioning strategy of Lyft, a US-based car sharing service. Lyft aims to be diverse, inclusive and socially-conscious – in a way that is diametrically opposed to the slick, professional image of its global rival, Uber.

Lyft and Uber positioning
Lyft’s positioning is fun and friendly compared to Uber’s slicker messaging

While Lyft’s positioning makes sense (especially when based in a liberal city like San Francisco), it’s missed a trick by frequently ignoring complaints on social media.

It’s great to have an overview of what people are saying about your product or service in real time. And of course be able to respond. Brandwatch is rightly proud of Vizia, a tool which blends social data with data from other sources to throw up beautiful visualisations.

Example of a Vizia dashboard showing real time brand commentary
Example of a Vizia dashboard showing real time brand commentary

When I worked on the Apprenticeship Service, we had a monitor set up that showed live users moving through the service. It was informative – and exciting for everyone working there to see people using the product in real time.

The Apprenticeship Service – like all UK services needing to pass the Government Service Standard – also made extensive use of user research. There’s no mention of this in the Brandwatch guide. That’s a shame – because combine user research with social listening and you really do have a winning formula.

Stand out from the crowd by being responsive as well as different. Now there’s an idea.

Photo: Benjamin Wong (via Unsplash)

If your marketing budget doesn’t stretch to a paid social listening tool like Brandwatch, try these free alternatives: