Listen and Ye Shall Hear: 2009 Forrester Wave on Listening Platforms

With the proliferation of social media and the influx of consumer conversations occurring on the Web, it's not enough for an organization to simply notice when its name or one of its brands happens to pop up. As consumers take hold of the reins and begin to steer the public conversations about brands, companies must shift from merely monitoring what's being said to actively listening -- and then to become actively involved. In response to this changing landscape, industry-analysis firm Forrester Research has done away with its Wave report on Brand Monitoring in favor of a new name and space called Listening Platforms.

Forrester defines a listening platform as technology and analytics infrastructure that extracts insights to shape marketing strategies. Despite the seeming immediacy and relevance of the space, especially for those already hip-deep in it, Forrester analyst Suresh Vittal emphasizes the infancy of the market -- much like social media itself, he says, the vendors providing listening platform solutions are evolving.

Vittal describes the move away from brand monitoring and toward listening platforms as inevitable. "We came upon this notion where social conversations are spreading and consumers are trusting peer reviews more than they trust marketing. These influences are game-changers," he says. "Simply tracking the discussion or mentions of a brand -- or simply just understanding how you are performing -- is insufficient. You need to be able to understand consumer sentiment and be able to analyze your influence or behavior to define your marketing strategy."

Forrester evaluated seven vendors in the listening platform space, with capabilities ranging from text mining and data collection to marketing segmentation and opinion insight. "Listening is the infrastructure that enables you to collect all this information -- and process and analyze this information," Vittal explains. "Brands don't have unlimited resources. They're obviously not going to get involved in every conversation, but listening platforms help them decide which conversations are best to participate in and which are best to let alone." The same could perhaps be said about the vendors appearing in the debut Forrester Wave on Listening Platforms:

Leaders:

  • Nielsen Online's BuzzMetrics Services: The vendor offers strong insight and analytical capability, and also creates a solid balance between technology, insight delivery, and strategy.
  • TNS Cymfony: With a core strength in data collection and media coverage, the Orchestra platform is well supported by a strategic and consulting services organization.

Strong Performers:

  • Dow Jones Insight: This division of Dow Jones has evolved from its former role as a brand monitor. With strengths in data coverage and sentiment analysis, Vittal writes that the product is a good option for public relations and communications professionals. He warns, though, that Dow Jones Insight could strengthen its offering by moving beyond public relations to deliver strategies for entire marketing organizations.
  • J.D. Power and Associates: While J.D. Power's offering is adept at text mining and marketing segmentation, Vittal notes that it lags behind the competition in the areas of mainstream media coverage and advanced analysis for marketers.
  • Visible Technologies: Along with this new entrant's strong technology backbone and reporting capabilities, Vittal says it offers a powerful contribution to CRM systems with data generated by its social media analysis. Vittal adds, however, that the vendor needs to beef up its consulting aspects and its delivery of strategic insight. [In related news, Visible just announced this week that it had hired as its chief executive officer Dan Vetras, formerly of Talisma before that company was acquired by nGenera.]
  • Biz360: The company offers an innovative product, Opinions Insight, which basically mines consumer feedback through a number of channels. Vittal points out that the solution is best suited for consumer products or multichannel retailers.

Contender:

  • Radian6 Technologies: The sole vendor to land in the debut Wave's "Contender" segment is relatively new to the platform scene. Its offering, which has enjoyed rapid adoption, has a user-friendly, customizable interface that Vittal says is ideal for public-relations teams. Yet Vittal also notes that Radian6 lacks the ability to identify customer sentiment and to deliver broader listening capabilities.

Vittal says he expects new vendors to continue to pop up. "We are on the ground floor of listening," he says, adding that, as the solutions and the market evolve, platforms should integrate with as many channels as possible. There's a significant potential to be realized, he says, integrating insight gleaned from listening platforms into CRM systems or contact centers. He cites the recent "Motrin Mom" marketing crisis as an example of a brand needing to respond quickly to unfolding social-media conversations. Johnson & Johnson, the makers of Motrin, faced a public-relations redball in November 2008 when a series of high-profile bloggers responded negatively to what was seen as an incorrect and unfavorable marketing campaign.

The Motrin example may soon become a relic of an earlier, less-responsive age. Vittal notes that, among the marketers he's spoken to that handle well-known brands, many seem to now comprehend the need for listening and proactivity. He adds that companies such as Dell and Microsoft are providing excellent examples of tuning into the customer conversation.

News relevant to the customer relationship management industry is posted several times a day on destinationCRM.com, in addition to the news section Insight that appears every month in the pages of CRM magazine. You may leave a public comment regarding this article by clicking on "Comments" at the top; to contact the editors, please email editor@destinationCRM.com.

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