Kia, Best Buy, and Viacom are using new tools to mine comments on the Web to see what consumers really think of their brands
Kia Motors (000270:KS) is eager to know what consumers think of its 2012 Rio, a five-door compact car to be unveiled at an auto show in April. The company, whose cars have traditionally been associated with fuel efficiency and good value, wants also to be known for "great design and cool technology," says Michael Sprague, Kia's vice-president of marketing and communications. "Our biggest challenge for the Kia brand is changing consumer perception," he says. Yet, the company has struggled to connect with consumers "on the emotional side," he says.
To change that, the Seoul-based automaker will use a tool that can swiftly analyze large numbers of opinions on the Web, including blogs, the microblogging site Twitter, and social networking service Facebook. It's called Mass Opinion Business Intelligence and it was developed by an Irvine (Calif.)-based company called WiseWindow. It coughs up a continuous, real-time feed of relevant consumer sentiment, gathered from millions of sites.
MOBI is part of an emerging technology that can tell a company almost instantaneously how people are feeling about a particular business, executive, product, stock, or advertising campaign. Conventional methods of gauging customer sentiment, such as surveys and focus groups, can be expensive, time-consuming, and difficult to measure in real time, says Seth Grimes, founder of Alta Plana, a consulting firm based in Takoma Park, Md. The better and more quickly a company can measure customer sentiment, the sooner it can tell how well a product is likely to sell.
Aside from Kia, companies such as Best Buy (BBY), Viacom's (VIA.B) Paramount Pictures, Cisco Systems (CSCO), and Intuit (INTU) are also using sentiment analysis to determine how customers, employees, and investors are feeling. Some companies even use software to check the tone of e-mail messages and other communications.
Automated sentiment analysis is an emerging field that overlaps with many others such as business intelligence, customer service, and brand reputation management, and the market is hard to measure. Many types of sentiment software use a technology known as text analytics, which extracts insight from text, such as in social media, news articles, or internal documents and databases. The market for text analytics alone may rise to $978 million in 2014 from $499 million in 2011, according to an October 2009 report by Forrester Research (FORR).
The technology makes it possible for nearly anyone to analyze consumer feelings without having any inside knowledge of the company. For example, WiseWindow looks at certain industries such as the airline industry. The company has been able to determine that a new Southwest Airlines (LUV) ad campaign that touts a frequent-flier program isn't as popular as a previous one, says WiseWindow Chief Executive Officer Sid Mohasseb. The previous "Bags Fly Free" campaign emphasized that, unlike rivals, Southwest doesn't charge for checked baggage. "They're losing market share of opinion," he says. Mohasseb declined to say which airlines, if any, are his clients. Southwest declined to comment.
Market research can provide companies with a snapshot of how a small sample group perceives a product at a moment in time. Sentiment analysis is more akin to a continuous video. MOBI considers all conversations about a product and then parses it using statistical analysis and so-called natural language processing, a computer system designed to interpret written communications, even if slang is used. Beyond identifying how consumers feel about brands or celebrities, it can predict market behavior, Mohasseb says. Some brands benefit even when people have bad things to say about them. "Lady Gaga makes money when she has negative sentiments in the market," says Mohasseb.
Communicating With Customers
Gaylord Hotels, a network of upscale, meeting-focused resorts, owned and operated by Gaylord Entertainment (GET), is changing how it communicates with customers based on sentiment analysis, according to Paul Hagen, principal analyst at Forrester Research. Using information gathered by Clarabridge, the hotel chain concluded that it can make the most positive impact in about five ways in the first 20 minutes of a guest's stay; previously Gaylord believed there were 80 things it had to do well during a visit to increase the likelihood guests would recommend the hotel, Hagen says.
For instance, the hotel discovered that guest satisfaction improved if the hotel staff walked with guests to their destination in the resort, rather than simply pointing the way when asked for directions. "Through our Clarabridge survey research, we learned that the first 20 minutes of the hotel experience was of vital importance to our guests," says David C. Kloeppel, chief operating officer for Gaylord Hotels. "Our hypothesis became: If we could perfect the first 20 minutes of the experience at our hotels, we could drive positive overall guest satisfaction."
Some companies use tools to monitor the tone of e-mails and other written communication with customers. Last year, GoGii Games began using software called ToneCheck from Lymbix to glean insight into the feedback its employees were providing to mostly female players, whose average age is more than 40 years, says Gogii CEO George Donovan. "We don't want players to say the game made me feel stupid when I played it," he says. "The majority of our developers are not 45-year-old females, but 25-year-old males who are used to designing games for young men."
Some users of sentiment analysis question its accuracy and say it can capture too much spam or otherwise irrelevant information, according to Forrester. Companies must also act on what they learn from sentiment-measuring tools, says Katie Delahaye Paine, author of Measure What Matters. Otherwise, they risk "the appearance of not caring," she says.
Kia says sentiment analysis helps it wade through the abundance of information generated in social media. It used WiseWindow to gauge reaction to its February Super Bowl ad, during the game and in the following days. Kia competed with about nine other ads from auto companies. "There was tremendous pressure to break through the automotive clutter," says Kia's Sprague.
During the Super Bowl, Kia went from a 4 percent share of the overall conversations about autos to 9 percent, he says. Positive sentiment increased from 4 percent to 18 percent, and the trend continued in the following week, he says. "We saw other brands drop over the week, where we maintained the level we were at from a marketing standpoint," Sprague says. Super Bowl ads cost $3 million for a 30-second spot. Kia, which purchased a 60-second spot, was able to tap sentiment analysis to figure out whether that was money well spent.