A few years ago, while the rest of us were wondering about Caitlyn Jenner, the China crisis, and if Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez were getting back together, investment bank Credit Suisse had an idea. They asked if all the popular drama going back and forth over social media could be measured. Specifically, could all that human sentiment manifest itself in the markets?
Turns out, yes.
Of course, Credit Suisse was less concerned about pop buzz and more about how big data and the associated social sentiment metrics could help predict brand popularity.
Working with Netbase Solutions, Inc., the Mountain View, California market research company, Credit Suisse set up a case study. What they wanted to know was if they could predict when Coach, the luxury leather brand, was failing.
Bank experts established a baseline for the level of mentions, impressions, sentiment and benchmarking across the category in general. “They said, when it drops below this industry baseline,” recalls Netbase Senior Director of Product Marketing Chris Leet, “it’s a candidate for having issues.”
In the Coach case, negative mentions in social media predicted the further decline of the Coach brand. A June, 2014 study by Netbase cited Coach had more negative discussions than any other in the study, which included luxury brands Michael Kors, Marc Jacobs, Kate Spade, Tory Burch, Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren. (Coach was highest in negative mentions at 16%. Tory Burch lowest at 5%.)
Coach brand’s stock price has been sliding since 2012, and the brand has been in recovery mode ever since.
Netbase is rated by Forrester as the No. 1-ranked enterprise social listening platform. The research firm pulls in content from over 200 million sources and 42 languages around the world. Sources include Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, news sites, blog sites and other sources. Clients include blue chip companies like Coke, Target and Visa, among others.
“We tend to move toward how people are talking with you,” says Netbase senior director of product marketing, Chris Leet. “What happens is that you get a huge amount of information about how people are referring to your brand. What they want. How they feel.”
“There’s a real difference between likes and love,” adds senior product marketing manager Mike Baglietto.
Netbase also works closely with Taco Bell. In a recent project, the quick service retailer wanted to locate followers who really crave Taco Bell. Netbase was able to fine-tune its diagnostics and pinpoint an additional 3.5 million avids not already on Taco Bell’s radar, giving them more reach into existing advocates. (These newcomers buy 20% more Taco Bell products than typical new customers.)
Sentiment analysis can also pull you out of your own BS. Motorcycle brand Vespa was introducing a new scooter and their proposed conversation was wrapped around new engineering: power train, engine, and transmission. A quick sentiment analysis of what Vespa meant to consumers included “cute,” “interesting,” “lifestyle,” “trendy,” “hip.” Not engineering. Vespa wasn’t talking to potential users, they were talking to themselves.
Reminder: Users are in charge of the conversation.
Whether it’s a Coach bag or burritos, sentiment impressions across a category or competitive landscape are a good indicator of how a product is going to perform. When you can watch a brand push up against certain thresholds, you can predict market moves.
It can also help save your booty.
During a new product introduction, a fast food retailer panicked as their new product started to crash. Before they pulled the plug, a quick-thinking executive decided to dive into social media mentions. They quickly learned that users wanted more of a certain ingredient (like,“more cheese”). A quick adjustment to the recipe in the field resulted in a complete pivot and one of the brand’s biggest new product launches.
Being able to observe consumer reactions in real time is critical. “It’s the difference between ‘What happened?’ and ‘What’s happening?’” says Mike Baglietto. “You don’t want to wait two quarters to find out what went wrong.”
“People are sharing their distastes, their approvals, their aspirations on social,” reminds Chris Leets. Real-time context and interpretation are key.
Sensing the public mood is big business. Public polling started in the 1930s and gained a stronghold during the Eisenhower era. By the late 1970s, companies were able divide people into demographics and zip codes. Direct mail programs targeted high-income neighborhoods for cars, investment plans and luxury goods. Products could be “positioned” in your brain to differentiate your product in the battle for your mind. By the 1990s, demographics had leveled up to new psychographics that tabbed people into mass verticals.
These days, our abbreviated knowledge of the world seeks so much more. The massive glut of Internet traffic and technology are taking us to new levels.
Rather than traditional customer surveys, user data is a real-time perception about what’s unique about your brand, the competitive landscape, how your category is performing. And it can be bundled to inform campaigns, develop campaigns, or adjust campaigns in real time.
All of which is intended to give you foresight, rather than aftershock.
Of course, Netbase is not the only company doing this. All the large social media companies have some way of tickling our emotional soft buttons. In a parallel article published this morning, industry pub Adweek cites, “Marketers can tap Facebook’s anonymized data to discover what the platform’s 1.59 billion monthly users are saying about their brand. Snapchat’s reporting is not yet as sophisticated, and brands need to manually sift data to find interactions. Tumblr’s blogging traffic is growing at 74% per year and gives marketers an opportunity to engage with influencers, and Instagram’s 400 million monthly users can be engaged with brand hashtags.”
Thanks to a partnership with Twitter, Netbase’s Audience 3D product can even find your detractors and identify what’s really holding them back. This leverages incredible advantage—because if you can identify what’s holding potential advocates from becoming a part of your community—again, let’s say it’s “not enough cheese”—you can either add more cheese to current product, or roll out a new “big cheese” personalized product.
“We can pull those people in, and every single thing they talk about,” says Chris. “Then push them into a tailored audience and advertise directly to that set of people.”
(I’m wondering if the descriptors on the new Snickers candy bars—Loopy, Sleepy, Rebellious—weren’t pulled from social media. Do you know?)
Bottom line. Your user’s brand advocacy, loyalty and passion are metrics that can be analyzed, determined and predicted. Understanding them can become your unfair advantage.
Mankind is a eusocial species that is hard wired to mass together. How—and for what purpose—is always a question mark? We crowd together to buy tacos, athleisure wear, hybrid cars or watch Game Of Thrones. We hang together for political candidates. During a recent webcast, Netbase demonstrated how online sentiment analysis can potentially predict the U.S. national elections. (Anyone who has watched the recent season of T.V. series House Of Cards witnessed a similar event taking place.)
The next step will be deep belief networks that not only sense where we are, but intuit where we’re going. Perhaps they will even anticipate our needs before we do. Whether the future is caves of sentient cloudworks pillaging our brain stems, or simply a better way to buy a burrito, remains to be seen.
Tomorrow, Facebook will be upping its game with the introduction of its new artificial intelligence-powered chat bots. Do they already know how we feel about them?
This article was written by Patrick Hanlon from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.