Why sentiments are important to help companies keep their corporate identity (or a kind-of-plaidoyer for the Volkswagen case mentioned in our previous blog posting)

The main purpose of companies is to satisfy the customers’ needs and making profit of this satisfaction. But in today’s economy, with many similar products to satisfy the customer, one needs to do more than just sell the best product possible. You need to sell a good feeling that comes along to a good image and will evoke feel-good sentiments.

The decision to buy a product consists of many small steps: customers have (or feel they have) a need, then go and search for information. With this information they evaluate the alternatives and then go and buy the best one for them. After the purchase they will compare their products to others, which will decide about satisfaction or dissatisfaction. This is not new at all – it rather elementary and dates back to … 1910, the work of John Dewey and the buying decision process as he described it.

The information searching process is mostly about what the customers’ needs are and how they can be satisfied. For example the need could be something as simple as the possibility to enter the web at home. In the information searching process the customer observes that some kind of computer is needed and that a tablet best satisfies their desire.

The evaluation is where most sentiments come into play. There are many sellers of tablet computers and most of them sell similar products, in terms of the customers’ needs. Customers will take their attitude towards the companies in consideration.

This attitude arises on the one hand from “hard facts”, like how good the products are, their prices or what the customer service is like and on the other hand from “soft facts” like the company’s sense of responsibility for the environment, whether the company has a trendy or cool profile or their products seem exciting or hot enough, but also what the other people think about that particular brand.

Many customers will inform themselves about these facts via the internet. In social media, rating portals, various blogs or online newspapers, they can easily find information and opinions. Most of this information is heavily packed with sentiments and emotions of their authors. By trying to separate or mine the sentiments from the information about a company or a certain product it is possible to determine the real attitude customers have towards those and therefore to predict sales better.

I only wonder how people should feel different about their diesel Volkswagen car the day after the news about the emissions scandal went public. Should they feel cheated? Should they feel affected at all? Should they care about this as citizens, as individuals or as customers? Is this a good reason for them to consider in selling their car and punish the company for breaking a mutual trust ‘contract’? Or are these first world problems for an overheated economy and people who are seeing unfulfilled commitments when the froth of their latte macchiato looks like a little suboptimal?

In SSIX, using X-Scores we aspire to help our users build commercially viable and exploitable social sentiment indices to support a wide audience of European small and medium entrepreneurs to analyse and leverage real-time social media sentiment data in their domains. But the crucial last step of meaning- and sense-making is, I am afraid, always theirs.

This blog post was  written by the SSIX partners at the University of Passau

For more information on SSIX, visit our website ssix-project.eu.

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