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Rise of the Machines

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Despite their perceived limitations, automated tools for listening to branding messages is a growth industry right now. Suresh Vittal, principal analyst with Forrester Research, said the market for such solutions is around $150 million and “it’s growing at a very healthy rate right now.” Last week, the industry got another shot in the arm with the entry of Microsoft, a client of Visible Technologies, which announced a program called Looking Glass that tracks such messages for marketers and advertisers. According to the company’s advertising blog, it has used the technology to see what consumers were saying about Zune, its competitor to the iPod.

While it’s unclear what Microsoft’s entry into the category will mean for Visible, Vittal said it’s a net positive for the industry: “Anytime Microsoft enters a space, it’s validation.”

As Microsoft’s early interest in text mining shows, tech companies were early adopters to the technology. Intuit, for instance, has been using a text mining solution from Clarabridge for about three years, according to Chris Jones, Intuit’s analytics infrastructure manager. But Intuit, which makes popular personal finance software products like Quicken and TurboTax, has mostly used text analytics to monitor inbound calls from customers. Jones said the best use of text analytics is to identify what is causing consumers the most delight or pain. For instance, by monitoring such data, he was able to determine that many consumers found the company’s support site difficult to navigate, so Intuit reorganized it.

Jones acknowledges that his company is atypical in that most of the discussion is inbound. “We’re not a Pepsi or Coke where there are voluminous conversations outside our control,” he said. “We control about 80 percent of the conversation.” While Intuit’s marketing department has just started to use text mining for brand monitoring, Jones questioned the value of scraping sites like Twitter for insights. “If someone’s tweeting that ‘I’m sitting in a Starbucks having a latte,’ you don’t know where they are and they’re just stating a fact,” he said. “The richer conversations are where people are saying, ‘Hey, this is a great company because...’ or ‘Here’s what they need to change.’”

Nevertheless, adoption is spreading beyond tech. Sarah Hofstetter, svp-emerging media and client strategy at 360i, a digital marketing agency that lists Reckitt-Benckiser and NBC Universal, among others, as clients, said there’s been an uptick of interest since the Domino’s incident. “Fear has been the core of the motivation for daily active listening,” she said, though she didn’t say which clients were using it. “There are plenty of tools out there that you can license pretty cheap. The challenge is information overload. You can set up alerts to the point of crashing your inbox...It depends on the frequency of conversations about your brand and your threshold for pain.”