Market StudiesSocial Media Listening

Are User Opinions Important?

Try to type on Google the title of this post “Are User Opinions important?”. You will be probably as surprised as I was in discovering that the search engine , thanks to some machinery that we humans cannot even guess,  considers the word “opinion” as a perfect synonym of the word “review”, at the point that, at the time of writing, the first hit is the article “How Important Are Customer Reviews For Online Marketing?” from the Forbes web site. Besides the linguistic jokes that could be generated from this assimilation (“keep your reviews for yourself!”, “The spending opinion will start next Monday”) the Google answer to “Are User Opinions Important?” is “Yes they are important!”, as we understand from the results in the first page. Of course they are important, because here they refer uniquely to the “rating” sense of the word “review”, and everybody knows how crucial rating is in e-commerce.

In this post, however, I would like to challenge the importance of opinions as a way of understanding the customer and converting users into customers (i.e. converting someone who uses a bike into someone who buys your bike).

In particular, I will try to justify the following claims:

  1. Opinions are positive/negative statements about an object which have a rational nature (at least according to the holder).
  2. Emotions are mental states for which the link between the object inducing the emotion and the emotion itself is not necessarily of a rational nature.
  3. Opinions are almost useless if they are not associated with the features/attributes which trigger them (i.e. associating an opinion to an object is not enough).
  4. Opinions are often difficult to be transformed into actionable insights.
  5. Emotions are easily translatable into actionable insights.
  6. Intentions and attitudes are treasures the customers provide us for free.

To Like or not to Like

We have recently invested a lot of research effort in completing our VoU  and NPD4ALL platforms with emotions and attitudes. Why? Indeed the choice seems to go against the main stream where everybody cares about sentiment. What is sentiment? Plainly said, what is called “sentiment” (with a sequel of bad translations in romance languages) is just detecting opinion. It is just positive and negative. Good, no-good. Almost every platform of social media monitoring is offering this kind of information, to a different degree of accuracy. The crucial point is: to what extent is this kind of Hulk-like expression important in customer listening and marketing?

Opinions (sentiments) are important only if they can be correctly contextualized. When the product as a whole is the object of the opinion, their value is definitely reduced. Does it matter that people express negative opinions about your

Features and opinions in cosmetics
Features and opinions in cosmetics

last hydrating cream? Of course it does, but without contextualization, you would have deduced the same information from sales figures or plain structured questionnaires. On the contrary it becomes crucial when you know why. Are negative opinions about price? About distribution/availability? About packaging? About secondary effects? All these questions are dubbed in our jargon as features (PRICE, AVAILABILITY, PACKAGING, etc.) and it is indeed at the feature level, not at the product one that sentiment analysis becomes important. Crossing the features/opinions/products axis is likely to give you real insights on next generation products, on effective marketing campaigns, on distribution strategies, etc.

Beyond Rationality

Emotions in the cosmetics sector
Emotions in the cosmetics sector

An opinion is often a manifestation of a rational conclusion. It is a Cartesian judgment: you take into account pros and cons and you emit your note. Just like a note at school. However for CX and even more for marketing, how does this Cartesian judgment influence, for instance, buying behavior or ambassador-like attitudes? Everybody in marketing knows that a buy action is not necessarily driven by rational causes. I might have experienced many problems with an Alfa Romeo car, difficulties in re-selling it at reasonable price, hours of waiting at the car dealer, but… I will buy an Alfa again, Why? That’s the irrational part: my opinion is negative but my emotions go in the direction of that brand.

Understanding emotions, and, of course, inspiring emotions is therefore crucial. Our job is to understand them. Understand them not on the basis of facial expressions, not on the basis of voice tonality, nor on the basis of brain activity measurements: our job is to capture them on the basis of language, which is probably the oldest media for communicating emotions.

How do emotions differ from opinions? Well, I would say that the most evident difference is that they are more directly translatable into actionable knowledge. Consider the following example:

“I am afraid of side effects”

If we refer to Paul Ekman six basic emotions, this claim would be classified as FEAR. Notice that it is not at all an opinion, still, the insight I can capture is much more important than what I would derive from the plain opinion “I don’t like it”. Indeed by analyzing “I am afraid of side effects.” I know that people suspect side effects, and this possibility inspires fear, thus it casts doubts in buying decisions. I also know that, if my product has no side effect, I should emphasize this fact in marketing campaigns. Or, on the contrary, if it has side effects I should invest in my R&D to limit them.

We can associate development/marketing actions to almost every emotion: enjoyment and enthusiasm are usually signals for “delighters” “Wow, there is even small logo on front lights”). Positive surprise is an index of the perceived originality of a given product feature (“I am surprised by the new range of colors. I like them!”), Sadness with respect to a product is normally manifested in front of a missed opportunity (“too bad, they do not provide head up vision”). And so on: what really matters here is that the identification of triples “product, feature, emotion” is easily interpretable, and thus immediately translatable into actionable knowledge. Much more than opinions.


When the User is the Analyst

Opinions are sometimes difficult to be interpreted. Emotions are more easily understandable, but still the figure of an analyst with some domain competence is needed to validate them. So the user never speaks explicitly? Yes s/he does, by providing very special pieces of information that we call Intentions and Suggestions. These are expressions where the user clearly states her attitude towards an object and a feature. If 30% more users in the last 3 month manifested the intention to buy an organic hydrating cream, there is nothing to interpret: they just testify of a precise trend, and ignoring it for either NPD or marketing would be just missing an opportunity. By the same token, if you discover that people gives you suggestions about the luminosity of your last model of e-book you should maximally exploit these spontaneous insights: they are much more valuable than a solicited inquiry.

However Intentions and Suggestions will be the topic of a future post.