Can sentiment analysis (SA) help companies tap new markets? This question was posed to me by IDG News Service and CIO magazine correspondent Joab Jackson, an astute IT industry watcher. Joab asked, "I get the idea of using SA to get a better idea of what customers are saying, but can it be used to find new customers?"
Find new customers, yes.
Find (identify) new segments of customers, not on its own and not without some creativity.
Let's explore a few, possible scenarios, preceded by a bit of back story on sentiment-analysis methods.Not if, but how
Joab and I were discussing automated sentiment analysis: software, platforms, and services that distill subjective information from social and news media and from enterprise feedback sources such as surveys. (Our exchange was prompted by the approach of the April 13 Sentiment Analysis Symposium.) At this stage, the question for all but a few hold-outs is not whether sentiment analysis delivers business value. That it does (or can) is proved. The dispute between analytics-philes (like me) and techno-skeptics is over the adequacy of automated methods.
Nathan Gilliatt has very ably addressed this dispute as it relates to social-media analysis, which (when done right) relies heavily on sentiment analysis. See, for instance, Human vs. machine analysis and The Importance of the Analyst.
This contextual background out of the way, consider two scenarios.
Discovering new markets
A number of years ago, word went around that Avon's Skin So Soft product works as a bug repellent. There has been some dispute whether the product is effective as a repellent; nonetheless, markets are created by perceptions regardless of truth. This principle predates social media and it continues to this day.
If Twitter and blogs had been around in the '80s and early '90s, Avon could doubtless have identified, via social-media monitoring and sentiment analysis, and exploited the unforeseen use of Skin So Soft as a bug repellent much more quickly than it did. Avon did respond, eventually. According to Snopes, "in 1994, Avon added a non-DEET repellent and a sunscreeen to the popular bath oil and began marketing the new concoction as Avon Skin So Soft Bug Guard Repellent." Sentiment analysis allowed Avon to tap a new market.
So New Market Discovery Scenario #1 is identification of alternative and unexpected uses of an established product by listening to the Voice of the Market. I could see this use case applying for a broad set of consumer products and medications, including especially prescription pharmaceuticals, which are not infrequently used for non-approved purposes.
Here's another possibility, noting the rise of device- and social-media-associated geolocation. New Market Discovery Scenario #2: Identify and assess the importance and potential of new geographically defined markets for established products and services, leading to the tailoring of those products and services and their marketing for those new markets.
Here I'd include mobile use. But this is very abstract, so to make it concrete, how about if a company can discover via social-media monitoring (e.g., of Twitter or FourSquare) that there's a pattern of a segment of individuals (e.g., "young professionals") traveling from from an office park or defined location such as Wall Street, at certain times of day, to, perhaps, and an area known for bars and entertainment? Sentiment comes in when you look not only at behavioral patterns but also at the subjective content of tweets and at qualitative material such as restaurant reviews.
Scenario #3, and beyond
Last up, I'll offer a New Market Discovery Scenario #3. There's the flip but true answer to Joab's questions, that sentiment analysis creates new markets... for software and platform vendors, PR agencies, marketing firms, and the thousands of self-proclaimed social-media experts out there. There's a profusion of options with huge variance in ability to deliver. You need the right combination of human insight and creativity -- knowing where to look and how to recognize signals -- and of automated (yes) tools. When you provide savvy analysts with capable sentiment tools, market-discovery challenges will be transformed into opportunities."Can sentiment analysis help companies tap new markets?" This question was posed to me by Joab Jackson, an astute IT industry watcher. My answer: Find new customers, yes. Find new segments of customers, not on its own and not without some creativity. Let's explore a few scenarios...