In the old days, the “49ers” dug and dug and dug in the gold rich hills of Northern California. Some were lucky, most were not. Marketers have been following this basic approach since the advent of modern brand marketing techniques that began in the 1930s with the famous memo of Neil McElroy (see link to this historic memo), a Procter & Gamble advertising executive who argued for business management of brands. Since then, marketers have mainly relied upon blunt measurement instruments such a focus groups and in-home surveys to develop informative direction about consumer wants and needs.
Today, social listening is the way to go. Advanced listening techniques mine for insights by employing contextual meaning
found in texts, emails, blogs, posts, in essence any electronically communicated message consumers create. Consumers use their authentic voice to communicate feelings, preferences and needs and wants to their friends, colleagues, family and others.
In one case using social listening, the client brand discovered a major alternative use of their product that consumers had developed. Prior to this finding, the brand heard informal stories of this application but did not consider it an important use case. Upon learning more about it, they showcased the application and found a new market segment that valued it resulting in renewed growth to a lackluster business.