As far back as 2010 sentiment analysis tools were being touted as the silver bullet marketing leaders needed to understand how the brands they were building were perceived.
As far back as 2010 sentiment analysis tools were being touted as the silver bullet marketing leaders needed to understand how the brands they were building were perceived. Born out of the rising tide of social media platforms that proliferated at the same time, today there is, to put it bluntly, a mixed set of feelings about sentiment analysis tools.
Marketing leaders adopt sentiment analysis applications to "opinion mine", which is critical in an age where everyone from a President to child has the ability to publish their opinion in a tweet, posting, blog, podcast or video. With so much opinion pouring onto the internet, it is vital to be aware of any change in the feeling towards your organisation. Sentiment analysis applications scan the language, linguistics and biometrics to quantify the emotions, identify key information and extract these finds for comparison with a host of other opinions. In simple terms, the technology providers a marketer with an analysis of the voice of the customer.
The adoption of sentiment analysis has in turn driven the move towards content creation, giving technology marketers a more effective way to share a message and then analyse the response to it.
Unsurprisingly the retail sector has been the most aggressive adopter of sentiment analysis and in 2017 retail accounted for the majority of the market share, but as online models increase, allowing more organisations to have a direct to the customer experience, sentiment analysis tools are being adopted by a wider range of marketing leaders.
According to technology analyst house Gartner, sentiment analysis "comes with an acceptable return on investment (RoI)", but the US headquartered firm advises technology marketing leaders that sentiment analysis "requires active system management and high levels of industry domain expertise" to get the most from the technology. As many sectors and leaders have found with technologies such as artificial intelligence, data analytics and sales automation, these tools provide augmentation to good talent in the team, they are not an opportunity to reduce team size.
Sentiment analysis is more than brand protection. Although technology leaders have found the tools useful in identifying negativity towards their brands, the real power comes from discovering opportunities. The rise of the influencer is just one example of how organisations have realised and adapted to new routes to market.
Using sentiment analysis tools does not negate the role of the marketing expert, the software will deliver a very different set of responses to those of an experienced marketer. To date, sentiment analysis tools struggle with exaggeration, humour or double meanings, some experts regard sentiment analysis as naive.
Although originally intended for understanding the online world, the face-to-face world of events has in recent years brought together the physical and the digital world using sentiment analysis. Understanding attendees behaviour at major trade fairs and conferences has proved useful. Organisations such Ascential use the technology to monitor the changing behaviour of attendees, which they are using to improve the conferences and exhibitions. A survey in 2017 by Eventsforce, a software provider to the events industry, found the number one reason for collecting attendee data was calculate the return on investment. The survey of 120 major event planners in the USA and UK also discovered that just 16% are coping with the data reporting and analysis their customers expect and that 84% of those surveyed said they expected to struggle with managing and analysing the data they capture.
Sentiment analysis tools, perhaps like many technologies, has failed to live up to the expectations heaped upon it back in 2010. Organisations were told they would have real time insight into how customer base felt about their organisation and products. The sheer scale of social media has perhaps meant this is an unrealistic ambition for marketing leaders. In addition, the development of new closed social media platforms such as WhatsApp has meant a significant amount of influence now takes place in communities that technology marketers cannot access.
"Some of the largest organizations in the world, working off of some of the most renowned social analytics tools, seem to have soured on social sentiment analysis," says Jenny Sussin, marketing technology analyst with Gartner. "According to these organisations, largely represented by their market insights teams, they discourage their employees and their executives use of sentiment analysis as a definitive measure of success or failure. They say that despite having used multiple tools over the years, tools which are largely considered to be the leaders in the social analytics space - they have never found sentiment analysis to be particularly accurate."
The failing of these tools seems as hard to discover as the sentiment marketing leaders were hoping they would unearth. Sussin at Gartner says sentiment analysis tools may not be providing the answers required by technology leaders because of poor algorithms, sarcasm, no standardisation of analysis terms or too many existing bias' creating the wrong context.
"The fact of the matter is that this area has been a massive disappointment to clients and reference customers alike," Sussin says.
Sentiment analysis has a new arena to content with - voice. Personal assistant technology such as the Amazon Alexa will create another raft of sentiment data, but again, many of the challenges raised, such as standardisation of analysis terms or an inability to understand behaviours remain. On a more positive note, the levels of content continue to increase and there is little sign of social media usage declining. Understanding the sentiment of customers or potential customers will continue to be an important aspect of technology marketing life, just one that is not as precise as desired.