Text Mining for the Brand Intermediaries – a CGM Whodunnit

A Colloquial Treatment of the Product Performance and Outcomes Aspect of Mining of the Blogosphere for Brand Services Monitoring.
Alan Wilensky
abmadw@gmail.com
The author’s recently posted monograph, “ Employing Advanced Natural Language Text Processing to Provide Guidance to Mid-Market Multiline Dealers and Product Distributors”, has generated a great deal of blog traffic, but some have asked for a more brief and colloquial treatment.
The following is a basic description of where the industry is, or has, led itself, and where the author thinks the industry should be going, based on research recently conducted for a telecom industry client. The resulting conclusions do not betray any verbatim strategic conclusions that the author provided to the client.
The Text Mining Industry, and in particular those specializing in brand monitoring services, have come to focus on ‘sentiment’ as the metric du jour. We all know the typical meaning of sentiment, it’s how we feel, or how we express how we feel. The problem occurs when we create machine scored metrics of a very human thing, such as sentiment, and expect the mined results from the blogosphere to make sense.
Other than the linguistic problems of generation (That is so bad [in one generation] means bad, in another it means really great – Pimp, is (a derogatory) in one generation and quite amazingly, good in another [ we be each other’s pimp] (advocates), [pimp my ride] (make fancy)). One can find even more subtle examples of how linguistic subtleties might confound an algorithm. There are many more robust social media metrics that far exceed the reliability of sentiment, or that can augment sentiment in order to strengthen the ultimate guidance that is being sought via the mining of the corpus in question, i.e., the blogosphere and/or public user forums.
But, linguistic problems aside, it is the role that the early text mining sector entrants have cast themselves in as ‘brand monitoring surrogates’, that is really a point of contention. Who is concerned with monitoring brand? Why, it’s the brand owners of the Fortune 1000. These large companies, mostly in the durable goods sector (for who blogs about toothpaste and other consumer packaged goods?), have had unfettered access to the best brand monitoring and consulting practices. AC Neilsen, Arbitron, and Gallup are the giants of this industry, but there are others.
Creating text mining services for the Fortune 1000 has been a high latency, fussy business. Whereas professional brand monitoring is based on actuarially sound models and standardized methods of sampling, these recently innovated ‘social media text mining services’, often have account reps, and sometimes, computational linguists (gasp), work with clients to identify verbiage that that does, or does not, express sentiments concerning products of interest and brand issues of concern. But there is a problem:
Catering to these brand owners is, as previously stated, a high latency business; contracts from the leaders sometimes take 2-4 weeks in the sales cycle, and 2+ weeks to setup the query and dashboard reporting. Furthermore, brand ownership is limited to the relatively small group of brand owners who are used to sampling brand awareness, and regularly avail themselves of brand equity practices, such as consulting. Such brand consulting businesses often make their nut by getting a percentage of the ad buy. This brave new world of ‘text mining of the blogosphere’ is a curiosity that has not made significant inroads into the brand monitoring business – maybe to the tune of a very optimistic $100M, compared to the entrenched brand services billions. There is also ample evidence that the clientele served, and the investors at equity in such new age ventures, are tiring quickly of the model and results.
So, what is needed for text mining of the public corpus to succeed? First of all, to turn the attention of these services from the brand equity owners, to the branding recipients – those who must deal with the customer’s perception of branding, product performance outcomes, and interactions with the entire spectrum of the product’s touch points – service, warranty, dealerships, etc.
Who are these prime recipients of brand decisions? Customers, certainly, but from the point of view of a web based service to analyze the public corpus, the true targets are the brand intermediaries. These intermediaries are multiline retailers and distributors that span the gamut of local shops, regional retailers, and national department stores and distributors. These are the true recipients of branding decisions, and have had very little guidance to steer their decisions as to whether or not to add or drop product lines, take advantage of ‘spiffs’ (incentives that cover cooperative advertising and floor-plan financing), or any decision affecting what brands to carry and promote.

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