Instrumented Interconnecteds Intelligent

200px-Emoticon.svgThe Web makes it much easier to figure out what consumers really think about your company and products–making the marketer’s job less of an art and more of a science. There are a variety of handy techniques for gathering information from the Web, including software and services that measure brand reputation and the public reaction to individual product launches. Now, thanks to the latest new capabilities coming from the analytics community, these tools are becoming even more powerful.

This week, IBM’s software folks released a new package aimed at making it much easier for marketers to gather and interpret what’s being said online–and act on it. The software gathers comments made about products from a wide variety of sources including Facebook, Twitter, wikis, blogs, and RSS feeds. It considers not only typed comments but the graphical emoticons that people frequently attach to their missives. “Short messages are fairly emotionless, in general. To compensate, people use emoticons to convey  how they really feel,” says  Erick Brethenoux, vice president of corporate development at IBM’s SPSS subsidiary. “These symbols are meaningful in their own way, so we wanted to include them.” Here’s a demonstration of how we interpret the intent of emoticons.

Text analysis is improving, too. Different industries have their own lingo. The word “security,” for instance, means something quite different in financial services than it does in home electronics. So our programmers created dozens of specialized taxonomies for fields ranging from life sciences and banking to insurance and consumer electronics.

The software package enables companies to integrate Web info into data models along with their own internal data, including information harvested from customer profiles, transaction records, e-mails, SMS text messages, call center notes, and survey results.

But while it’s valuable to know what consumers, in general, think about your products, it’s even more useful to know what an individual customer thinks at the moment when it matters the most–when they decide to do business with you or not. Marketers call this “the moment of truth.”

Brethenoux learned this lesson through personal experience…

Back in 2008, he was stuck in O’Hare facing flight delay death by a thousand cuts. Every 15 minutes or so, the gate agents would post a new departure time. Brethenoux and the other passengers were stuck at the gate, and getting more frustrated by the minute.

Finally, fed up, he approached a gate agent. Rather than put him off, she pulled up information about him on her computer, saw that he wasn’t a member of the airline’s lounge club, and offered him a free 3-month trial membership, starting immediately. He could spend his waiting time in a relaxed setting secure in the knowledge that he’d be notified when the flight was ready to leave. Brethenoux liked the service so much that three months later he signed up for an  annual membership. “The company got $300 out of me and made me a happy traveler,” he says. “She up sold me out of a very frustrating situation.”

In fact, Brethenoux’s experience had a happy ending twice over. It turned out that the airline was using SPSS’s predictive analytics software to  handle his situation. So, in a sense, he had himself to thank for his positive customer experience.

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