Our thesis: Language technologies — text, speech, and social analytics — natural language processing and semantic analysis – are the key to understanding consumer, market, and public voices. Apply them to extract the full measure of business value from social and online media, customer interactions and other enterprise data, scientific and financial information, and a spectrum of other sources. The insight you’ll gain means competitive edge, whatever your organization’s mission.

Insight, via business (and research and government) application of language technologies, is the central topic for LT-Accelerate, a new conference that takes place 4-5 December 2014 in Brussels.

I recently interviewed a number of LT-Accelerate speakers. My questions broadly cover the topics they’ll be addressing in their conference presentations. This article relays my Q&A with speaker Inés Campanella of Havas Media Group and her colleague Óscar Muñoz-García. I’ll provide a bit of background and short bios and then we’ll get directly to the questions and responses.

Our interview with Inés Campanella and Oscar Muñoz-García

Q1: The topic of this Q&A is consumer and market insight. What’s your personal background and your current work role, as they relate to these domains?

    Inés Campanella: I hold a B.A in Sociology and a M.A in Research Methods. Through my work and studies, I specialized in the field of Sociology of Communication and Information Society. Given my background, I’m very keen on new communication models and behavior patterns mediated by new media (i.e., social networks and other social media) and how we can profit from this amazing stream of behavioral data to increase our knowledge of social behavior.

    At Havas Media I work as a researcher within the Global Corporate Development Team. My role involves integrating scholarly research and social theory into market research, designing a conceptual framework for insights into online consumer behavior; with a special emphasis in buzz monitoring. One of my main responsibilities is help to build qualitative, business-savvy content classifications to be used in the development of novel content analytics tools. My day-to-day tasks also involve working in practical, hands-on online market research analysis. This twofold approach allows me, and the team I work in, to come up with an innovative and yet pragmatic approach regarding what technology we are able to develop and what technical features we need to improve to meet our clients’ real needs.

Q2: What roles do you see for text and social analyses, as part of comprehensive insight analytics, in understanding and aggregating market voices?

    Inés Campanella: Regularly listening to consumers is a task that marketers must undertake in order to know their audience, detect how people feel about them, and cater to their needs and desires. This being said, the new shopping scenario with people massively sharing their thoughts online and performing regular online research about product and brands calls for an assessment of the techniques traditionally used in market research. There are many advantages to this. In comparison with traditional quantitative techniques such as questionnaires, the collection of opinions extracted from social media sources means less intrusion since it enables the gathering of spontaneous perceptions of consumers, without introducing any apparent bias. In addition, the possibility of doing this in real time poses a clear advantage over other techniques based on retrospective data. Overall, this allows for a more efficient and complex business decision making.

    So text analysis is and will increasingly be key to market research. Nevertheless, issues such as online privacy, anonymization and the degree of representativeness and objectiveness this data holds in comparison with other methods must be taken into account. We are only beginning to understand how we can combine these approaches in a solid, law-abiding methodological toolbox.

Q3: Are there particular tools or methods you favor? How do you ensure business-outcome alignment?

    Oscar Muñoz: There are many tools for measuring consumer insights in online paid and owned media that are reaching a significant degree of maturity, for instance, Programmatic Advertising and Web Analytics platforms for paid and owned respectively. However, regarding tools for performing consumer analytics in earned media, there is a long road that still lies ahead for offering results that can be easily activated in communication strategies.

    Content classification is needed to enable meaningful KPIs (key performance indicators). At Havas Media, we are working on sentiment KPIs that go beyond polarity identification (e.g., classification of emotions expressed by users towards brands and products), on consumer communities research studies via big graph analysis techniques, and on measuring the influence of ad campaigns over word-of-mouth through the analysis of correlations between advertising spent, spots’ audience, and social buzz.

Q4: A number of industry analysts and solution providers talk about omni-channel analytics and unified customer experience. Do you have any thoughts to share on working across the variety of interaction channels?

    Inés Campanella: We live in a digitalized world and this means that we no longer find consumers in one location, environment or channel but, rather, in an ever-increasing variety of them. Traditional customer journeys are no longer valid and, thus, new strategies to engage with consumers — and avoid looking redundant to their eyes — are very much needed.

    We have witnessed that, while companies struggle to connect their marketing strategies, they often lack a tool-supported holistic approach that ensures effective multi-channel and multi-device media strategies. Our ultimate goal at Havas Media is to integrate all data sources in order to track consumers across online and offline touch points, gathering information about them with the aim of performing real time automation of communication processes. An example: serving personalized, timely online ads, push messages, and e-mail recommendations. This is completely indispensable if we wish to address consumers in an effective way.

Q5: To what extent does your work involve sentiment and subjective information?

    Inés Campanella: To a very large extent. Either when I’m directly dealing with data from social media listening projects or when we’re devising new business coding frames, we’re always trying to elucidate ways to leverage this source of subjective information and make it actionable.

    On the other hand, carrying out accurate [sentiment] polarity analysis is essential, but we believe it is equally important to achieve a good classification and detection of recurrent conversation topics between users (e.g., regarding product features). Our deployment of content analytics tries to give answer to all these questions. Otherwise, we would be missing half the story.

Q6: How do you recommend dealing with high-volume, high-velocity, diverse data — to ensure that analyses draw on the most complete and relevant data available and deliver the most accurate results possible?

    Oscar Muñoz: We deal with volume and velocity by leveraging Big Data processing platforms like Hadoop and the related ecosystem (e.g., HBASE, HIVE, Spark, etc.). To tackle diverse data, we spent a significant part of our computing resources on ETL (extract, transform, load) processes for normalizing, integrating, aggregating, and summarizing data from multiple social media channels (Twitter, Facebook, blogs, forums, etc.) according to a unique schema of linked data about content, users, and related metadata.

    Regarding accuracy, our goal is to develop natural language processing (NLP) algorithms that are as precise as possible, to obtain confidence levels similar to other techniques like opinion polls. Unfortunately, this goal cannot be achieved easily. We combine machine learning and deep linguistic analysis techniques in order to find fair balances of precision and recall, but there is still a lot of work to be done.

Q7: Could you provide an example (or two) that illustrates really well what your organization and clients have been able to accomplish via analytics that demonstrate strong ROI?

    Inés Campanella: We’ve developed business indicators that allow us to better code and interpret social media listening data, namely marketing mix indicators and consumer decision journey stages. Ultimately, this has a very positive impact on ROI. Let me explain this in greater detail.

    To monitor in real time and accordingly react to the experiences that customers are sharing, our clients must know the purchase stages in which those consumers are gained and lost, in order to refine touch points, impact consumers at the right time, and achieve the desired result (that is, a transaction). Also, uncovering the exact content of the dialogues that customers are having lets marketers and advertisers keep better track of consumers’ mindsets. We’ve found that the combination of these two categories provides very valuable information for a better positioning of the brand or organization in the market and, therefore, for an improved return on advertising efforts.

Q8: I’m glad you’ll be speaking at LT-Accelerate. Your talk is titled “Understand Consumers: Mindset, Intentions, and Needs.” Would you please describe your presentation briefly: What will attendees learn?

    Inés Campanella: I’m also glad I’ll take part in LT-Accelerate. I will introduce the audience to Havas Media Group current needs, challenges, and practices regarding content analytics. Specifically, I’ll comment on the research we have carried out regarding innovative classification of user generated content (UGC) to improve social media buzz monitoring. In short, I’ll explain the business need for these kinds of classifier and how we can leverage and combine them with other market techniques and insights to improve our understanding of consumers’ mindsets and habits.

This Interview was conducted by Seth Grimes, the leading industry analyst covering text analytics, sentiment analysis, and analysis on the confluence of structured and unstructured data sources and founder of Alta Plana Corp.