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 consumer’s need for instant gratification. Now, marketers want to learn what consumers are feeling about their brands instantly. And that’s why the “sentiment analysis” 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 “almost instantaneously how people are feeling” 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 “Mass Opinion Business Intelligence” from WiseWindow, which describes it as “detailed, 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.”

WiseWindow’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 airline’s new ad is “losing market share of opinion.” 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 “transform text-based customer feedback from listening posts, such as surveys, emails, social media, and call centers into actionable insights.” Lymbix says its approach can “gauge the sentiment as well as the emotional tone of words, phrases, emoticons, and punctuation in all aspects of text-based communication.” One of the products Lymbix offers, “TweetTone,” targets the emotions behind the conversations on Twitter and allows the client to “filter conversation on Twitter based on the sentiment and emotional content of the tweet.”

Is instant analysis of consumer feelings the future of market research and analytics – 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 “opinion feed” available to clients who are willing to pay the price for instant feedback. This allows advertisers to only display “relevant” 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 world’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.

5 Responses to The Growing Attraction of Knowing What Customers Feel — Instantly

  1. Interesting evolution indeed. The real challenge is replacing humans with machines, holistically. Maybe the machine will be smart enough to know how people feel, but, realistically, I don’t even know if people know how people feel half the time, let alone real-time, first hand or second hand. Disclaimer – I work @Lithiumtech, formerly at Scout Labs, which offers a sentiment analysis engine.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Barry, thanks for covering the sentiment analysis topic. I’m a true believer, myself. I hope you don’t mind a plug: Folks who’d like to learn more should consider attending the Sentiment Analysis Symposium, April 12th in New York, http://sentimentsymposium.com/. Lymbix will be there, as will Clarabridge and many more solution providers and users from a wide variety of backgrounds. New this year, we’ll have an optional, half-day Practical Sentiment Analysis tutorial taught by eBay staff, Monday afternoon, April 11.

    Thanks again, Seth, http://twitter.com/sethgrimes

  3. Conversition says:

    Sentiment analysis, particularly the automated versions which allow a user to evaluate millions of opinions rather than just hundreds, is entirely based on validity. If the work isn’t put into creating a high quality, valid system, there’s no point in doing it at all. But, once you have that, the opportunities are endless.

    Sentiment analysis, or social media measurement, will never replace surveys. There are too many good things about surveys that cannot be accomplished any other way. But, social media measurement is absolutely going to take a chunk of business away from surveys and even focus groups.

    Annie Pettit, Phd
    Chief Research Officer, Conversition Strategies

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  5. Victoria says:

    It is really important to know the feedback of the customers real time so that we would be able to know the necesssary adjustments or further improvements to the products and services that we are offering…