The Growing Attraction of Knowing What Customers Feel — Instantly
Social media has revolutionized the way people communicate with each other, but it has also done a number on the way marketers analyze consumer behavior and feedback. Social media has caused marketers to think in real time about how to best promote their products or services to consumers who have more choices than ever before.
On the analytical side, social media poses a dilemma for marketers. The dynamics of a real-time conversation can instigate a level of marketing impatience that seems to equal the consumerâ€™s need for instant gratification. Now, marketers want to learn what consumers are feeling about their brands instantly. And thatâ€™s why the â€œsentiment analysisâ€ business is booming.
A report in Bloomberg Businessweek suggests that automated sentiment analysis may ultimately replace surveys and focus groups as a way to understand â€œalmost instantaneously how people are feelingâ€ about anything. For brand marketers who seek immediate insight into what consumers really think, this could be the new Holy Grail.
Companies including Best Buy, Cisco, Intuit, Kia, and Paramount Pictures are already using sentiment analysis to gain instant access to the feelings of various audiences, including customers, employees, and investors. Kia, for example, is using â€œMass Opinion Business Intelligenceâ€ from WiseWindow, which describes it as â€œdetailed, real-time data that opens a direct view into the thoughts and actions of consumers, as expressed online by the consumers themselves. It is literally a window into the Web, where you can see trends wax and wane in real-time as they are happening.â€
WiseWindowâ€™s CEO, Sid Mohasseb, told Bloomberg Businessweek that his company analyzed a new ad campaign from Southwest Airlines promoting its frequent flier program and quickly determined that it was not as popular as its previous ad emphasizing free bags. Mohasseb said the airlineâ€™s new ad is â€œlosing market share of opinion.â€ While Southwest does not appear to be working with WiseWindow, the company lists Star Alliance, a collective of 27 airlines, as one of its clients.
WiseWindow is one of a handful of companies offering sentiment analysis-type services. Clarabridge uses sentiment and text analytics software to â€œtransform text-based customer feedback from listening posts, such as surveys, emails, social media, and call centers into actionable insights.â€ Lymbix says its approach can â€œgauge the sentiment as well as the emotional tone of words, phrases, emoticons, and punctuation in all aspects of text-based communication.â€ One of the products Lymbix offers, â€œTweetTone,â€ targets the emotions behind the conversations on Twitter and allows the client to â€œfilter conversation on Twitter based on the sentiment and emotional content of the tweet.â€
Is instant analysis of consumer feelings the future of market research and analytics â€“ or is it just another fad? And what about growing consumer privacy concerns?
On the positive side, it appears that sentiment analysis tools can accumulate large amounts of data in real time, making an â€œopinion feedâ€ available to clients who are willing to pay the price for instant feedback. This allows advertisers to only display â€œrelevantâ€ ads to consumers; in theory consumers will see only ads about products they are interested in.
On the negative side, accuracy and relevancy could be issues that affect the integrity of the data. Sentiment is not an exact science and most tools currently do only a middling job of measuring it; the nuance in a Facebook post or a tweet is still easy to misinterpret. Beyond the technical challenges there is a growing debate about consumer’s data, how it is used, and consumer’s privacy rights when it comes to their data. How that debate is shaped both publicly and legally will surely impact the long term adoption of sentiment tools.
Still sentiment analysis has been adopted eagerly by marketers who are focusing on social media. The attraction of near immediate feedback to marketing strategies is very appealing. Whether sentiment can be truly integrated with more traditional analytics systems in way that allows marketers to make meaningful changes to campaigns will be an interesting evolution to watch.
About Barry Silverstein
Barry Silverstein is a freelance writer/marketing consultant. In addition to writing for ReveNews, he is a contributing writer to Brandchannel.com, the worldâ€™s leading online branding forum. He is the author of three marketing books, The Breakaway Brand (co-author, McGraw-Hill, 2005), Business-to-Business Internet Marketing (Maximum Press, 2003) and Internet Marketing for Technology Companies (Maximum Press, 2003). Barry ran his own Internet and direct marketing agency for twenty years. You can find Barry on Twitter @bdsilv.