Marketing chiefs feel overwhelmed by the growing volume of customer data on websites like Facebook and Twitter, and while they realize its potential value they consider themselves ill-equipped to harness it, an IBM study found.

Only 26 percent of chief marketing officers track blogs and just 40 percent track any online communications, while 82 percent still rely on traditional market research to shape marketing strategies, according to the study.

A few top consumer brands, such as Coca-Cola, Nike and Starbucks -- are using high-profile social media campaigns to great effect to find out what their customers want and to communicate with them.

But most CMOs are struggling to prove that investments in social media marketing would yield returns, according to the survey of more than 1,700 CMOs published on Tuesday and carried out in face-to-face interviews from February to June.

The perfect solution is to serve each consumer individually. The problem? There are 7 billion of them, said one CMO at a consumer-products firm in the survey.

Some 82 percent said they planned to increase their use of social media over the next 3-5 years.

IBM, along with other technology firms and big advertising agencies, is seeking to capitalize on the need of marketers to analyze data being created and shared on sites like Twitter and YouTube or by email.

Facebook has more than 800 million active users, while Twitter users send about 200 million tweets per day.

Such unstructured data, which are not collected in databases or documents, are difficult to understand using traditional computer programs.

IBM estimated that more than 90 percent of all real-time information being created today are unstructured -- and has spent $14 billion in the past five years on acquisitions of analytics companies to fulfill that new demand.

We have entered the age of the smarter consumer, IBM marketing executive Marcel Holsheimer told journalists at a briefing in London.

Marketing is going to become much more an automated and software play than it was in the past. This is why IBM is now making the investment in this space.

Hewlett-Packard this month bought British software firm Autonomy, a market leader in unstructured data search, for $12 billion.

(Reporting by Georgina Prodhan)