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Buying Minds

Advances in artificial intelligence are digging more deeply into what shoppers really think, reports Evelyn M. Rusli in The Wall Street Journal ( 4/15/14). A software program called Luminoso helped Scotts Miracle-Gro divine that customers were cancelling "its lawn-fertilizing service" because they were unhappy with its customer service. Thing was, customers didn’t come right out and say that bad customer service was the issue; Luminoso picked up on it by associating "seemingly unrelated phrases like ‘listen’ and ‘not responsive’."

"It digs a little deeper into what consumers are actually saying," says David Erdman of Scotts Miracle-Gro, whose insights were pulled from a customer survey. The Luminoso software, developed at MIT’s Media Lab, "draws from a large database of common knowledge and relationships … to understand how words and phrases relate to each other." Meanwhile, another software program, via Kanjoya Inc., "is able to identify 100-plus emotions, including depression and excitement."

Such software is not without its quirks: "Luminoso struggles with sarcastic statements, for example," and has been known to confuse Apple the company with apple the fruit. It may indeed be a while before most brands are comfortable with the technology. "When they can act on behalf of marketers during engagement, this will be the tipping point for growth and value," says Forrester analyst Michele Goetz. Luminoso CEO Catherine Havasi says the comfort level is rising, adding: "You can attack anything as a data-driven decision."