Everyone’s a Critic: The Splinters of our Discontent

First published January 14, 2010 in Mediapost’s Search Insider

I had a bout of inbox convergence today. Just as I was speculating what this week’s Search Insider might cover, two separate emails surrounded a juicy little topic and delivered it to me on a platter. First, a post from Ad Age about how marketers are reluctant to use online conversations as a source of customer feedback: “‘Listening’ ostensibly has become the rage in consumer research, but the Advertising Research Foundation is finding that many marketers view what would seem one of the digital age’s biggest gifts to marketers — the torrent of unsolicited consumer opinion — as more of an added expense item than a blessing.”

And then, a small blog post on Echouser got me thinking: “It’s a concept for what an iPhone app designed to measure experiences (any experiences, from surfing a website to hopping on BART) could look like… Can you imagine if we were able to rate experiences on the fly, all day every day?”

Customers are Talking…

There’s been a lot of talk about the shift of control to the consumer and empowerment. As 2009 drew to a close, I talked about the shape of marketing to come. One of the key foundations I identified was participation — actively engaging in an ongoing conversation with customers. The two posts in my inbox start to get at the potential of this conversation.

In the first post, ARF laments advertisers’ reluctance to tap into ongoing online conversations as a source of customer feedback. Valid point, but I can understand their reluctance. This is unstructured content, making it qualitative, anecdotal and messy. Marketers balk at the heavy lifting required to mine and measure the collective mood. Some tools, such as Collective Intellect, are starting to take on the hard task of migrating online sentiment into a dashboard for marketers. The easier it gets, the more likely it will be for marketers to actually do it. Until then, we’re stuck with consumer surveys and comment cards.

…Anytime, Anywhere…

But it’s the second post that really got me thinking. Always-on connections have already given a voice to consumers, one that’s heard loud and clear. But what if we did indeed have a convenient and commonly structured way to provide feedback on every single interaction in our lives through mobile connections? What if marketers could know in real time what every single customer thought of them, based on the experience he or she just had? Some cringe at the thought. Others are eager for it. The second group will inevitably prevail.

Given the level of investment required on the part of the user, I suspect this channel would only be used in extremely negative and extremely positive circumstances. We don’t tend to take the time to comment on things that come reasonably close to meeting our expectations. But even so, it’s a powerful feedback channel to contemplate, giving the truly user-centric company everything they could ever wish for.

…So Listen!

Last week, I talked about the mother lode of consumer intent that exists in search query logs and how we’ve been slow to leverage it. This week, we have an equally valuable asset rapidly coming down the pipe — a real-time view of our customers’ sentiment.  That’s a one-two punch that could knock the competition out cold.

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