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11/14/2008
08:12 AM
Seth Grimes
Seth Grimes
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Clarabridge Focuses on Customer Experience

I spent a worthwhile day last week at Clarabridge's inaugural user conference. The company is a leading text analytics vendor, and the opportunity to catch up with staff and users and (it turned out) prospects and partners was too good to pass up. Clarabridge is different from many other text analytics vendors in its singular focus on customer-experience management (CEM). The approach seems to work.

I spent a worthwhile day last week at Clarabridge's inaugural user conference. The company is a leading text analytics vendor, and the opportunity to catch up with staff and users and (it turned out) prospects and partners, without having to travel far from home, was too good to pass up.

Clarabridge is different from many other text analytics vendors in its singular focus on customer-experience management (CEM). This isn't to say that you can't license and use Clarabridge's Content Mining Platform (CMP) for other applications, and it's not to say that the company doesn't have strong technical capabilities. It's a matter of market positioning that concentrates on a defined set of business users, across a broad spectrum of business sectors, with market messaging that focuses on business benefits rather than on technology. The approach seems to work. Clarabridge CEO and co-founder Sid Banerjee says "the business impact and deployability/usability of our solutions seem to be resonating with our customers and prospects."Marketing VP Tony Lopresti told me that the company is on track to record 2008 revenues somewhere between double and triple 2007 figures, which were themselves up 500% from the prior year. My guesstimate for 2007 software and service sales was $5-6 million. While 500% growth off a modest baseline isn't extraordinary — the company was founded only in 2005 — the ability to sustain high growth levels, especially given current economic conditions, is notable, and Tony projects 100%-200% growth into 2010. Now he's partisan and has every reason to spin the numbers high, but conference attendee attitudes supported his optimism. This was a happy crowd, confident they were in the right place, spending their money the right way. One panelist — I think it was David Gutting, VP and director of planning at Adamson Advertising — saw now as the time to "double down" on analytics to gain advantage over weakened competitors.

Gutting hit on interesting Voice of the Customer (VOC) themes in a market-research panel moderated by Bob Thompson of Customer Think. They're themes I've heard before and preach myself, and they bear repeating, that "People will tell you what the narrative is. You can't impose it on them... What people will respond to is seldom the things you ask them about."

Panelist Mike House of Maritz Research echoed these themes in discussing how text analytics enables a new approach to survey research: "Let [respondents] say what they want. Let them drive the conversation... Instead of asking 50 attributes — How did you like this feature, that feature? — we'll just talk to you."

I suppose that Clarabridge's marketing lead with business adaptation and value, with technology playing a supporting role, itself embodies the "let them drive the conversation" mantra. Same applies at Clarabridge competitor Attensity. Marketing VP Michelle DeHaaff commented to me, "In terms of leading with the VOC message versus exhaustive extraction: it's a function of the solution the customer is looking for and of speaking in their vernacular versus ours. As you state, customers care [most] about business value and our ability to deliver value around accurate analytics of customer issues, complaints, sentiment, requests, competitive data, etc."

That "exhaustive extraction" term implies strong technical capabilities, which is great... once a prospect figures out what "extraction" means and how it will benefit his or her business. So speak the prospect's language.

Contrast new text-analytics entrant Leximancer with Clarabridge and Attensity. Leximancer pitches "critical insight — deep, meaningful and actionable — that is not available elsewhere." But the company's messaging fails to link technical capabilities to business functions or to specific business domains. If you dig in, you'll find that Leximancer (also) targets customer feedback, but I'd liken the company's concept maps to playing a game of Pick Up Stix: you have to prise information of value from what appears a jumble of mapped term interrelationships. Here's an example. If I were a prospect, I'd want to see usability that's linked to business benefits. But Leximancer is a new company and, I'm sure, will refine its messaging.

Analytics heavyweight SAS, however, has been around for decades. I have to wonder how business-analyst prospects react to marketing-material screenshots that, for instance, include weights to 13 decimal places. How do I use this? How does it help me reach business goals? What's a weight, anyway? A Clarabridge prospect I met at the conference asked me about SAS; my impression that SAS text analytics will (still) be of interest primarily to SAS-platform users — the word "insiders" came to mind first — matched his.

The prevailing message at Clarabridge's user conference was that companies that pay attention to the voice of the customer and, implicitly, craft their own messaging accordingly, will do well despite current economic conditions. Clarabridge itself appears to be a case in point.I spent a worthwhile day last week at Clarabridge's inaugural user conference. The company is a leading text analytics vendor, and the opportunity to catch up with staff and users and (it turned out) prospects and partners was too good to pass up. Clarabridge is different from many other text analytics vendors in its singular focus on customer-experience management (CEM). The approach seems to work.

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