8 October 2014:

The McKinsey authors argue that weak signals are snippets of information about customers and industry trends which can be found in digital information, particularly on social media channels.

The three best practice tips, supported by case studies from Nordstrom, an advertising agency and TomTom, are as follow:

1: Executive involvement
Executives should participate in social media activities: those who are curious and connected to the themes emerging from social media are more likely to spot insights. As the concept of weak signals might be unfamiliar to senior management, an up-front investment in leadership time will be needed to clarify the benefits of weak signals management.

2: The need for new tools for the analysis of weak signals
Because of the growing volume of data to be scanned for weak signals, traditional analytical methods will not be capable to identify trends and guide strategy. As an example, US retailer Nordstrom tested Pinterest, the digital-scrapbooking site, in two Seattle-area stores: “Local salespeople … use an in-store app to match items popular on Pinterest with items in the retailer’s inventory”. The authors conclude that visual tools such as Pinterest will be increasingly useful in detecting and leveraging weak signals. Navigation products manufacturer TomTom monitors social media activities to provide input for performance metrics and to guide marketing and customer service activities.

3: Applying the findings from weak signals management to product development and marketing
Following the best practice examples, organisations must provide insights from weak signals management to product development and other operational activities. TomTom confirmed that “… the mechanism for spotting weak signals proved useful in enhancing its product-development process”.

Harrysson, Martin; Métayer, Estelle & Sarrazin, Hugo 2014, “The strength of ‘weak signals’”, McKinsey Quarterly, no. 1, pp. 14-17.

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