TNS Eyes the Next Frontier: How to Track Viral, Chatter

Move is Latest in Trend of Research Firms Nabbing Buzz-Measuring Experts

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If there was any doubt which way the marketing industry is going, consider that TNS Media Intelligence, the measurement giant that can tell marketers how much they or their competitors spent in traditional media such as print and TV, has purchased Cymfony, a Boston company that measures that free, consumer-generated medium, aka word-of-mouth.

The move brings more measurement and accountability to a space that Steven Fredericks, CEO of TNS, said "is going to explode within the next couple of years." With the measurement capabilities of TNS, "we can see if there is a correlation between ad expenditures and feedback," said Andrew Bernstein, CEO of the social-media-measurement firm.

The deal echoes similar acquisitions by VNU; last year it brought brand-monitoring services BuzzMetrics, Intelliseek and Trendum together under the Nielsen BuzzMetrics umbrella. Terms of both deals were undisclosed.

Peter Kim, marketing and advertising analyst at Forrester, estimates the revenue for the total social- media-measurement sector is about $60 million, and Cymfony's annual revenue ranges between $10 and $15 million.

'at the forefront'

"One of the issues for us is connecting dots of all media, and we saw consumers taking more control over what they're willing to watch [than] over what everybody wants them to watch," Mr. Fredericks said. "We saw the online communities as really at the forefront and ready to explode in terms of where people will start making decisions on acting, viewing and interacting on advertising."

Marketing-information companies must add buzz- and online-media-monitoring services to stay competitive, Forrester's Mr. Kim wrote in a Wave study on the topic he published in September. In it, he predicted a company like TNS would look closely at Cymfony. The area is considered to be an emerging one, especially considering marketers continue to increase spending outside of measured media in areas such as direct marketing, promotions and PR.

It's not just research companies taking stakes in such services. Holding companies, ad agencies and media companies are also investing in brand- and buzz-monitoring services. WPP Group, for example, acquired word-of-mouth firm M80, and Meredith Corp. gobbled up interactive word-of-mouth specialist New Media Strategies.

Mr. Kim said he would not be surprised to see other companies in the space get snapped up. That list includes Brandimensions, Umbria, MotiveQuest and Biz360.

TNS looked at building its own service but, after realizing it would take about three years, decided it couldn't wait that long. Last summer, Mr. Fredricks began approaching companies in the space-there are about a half dozen-and was impressed with Cymfony's natural-language technology and also with the fact that it had human analysts dissecting the buzz as well.

The process works like this: Cymfony identifies and aggregates online content, figuring out which blogs are relevant and which aren't. It also culls offline sources, important trade publishers and others and puts them into its system. Then a natural-language tool processes it to understand what people are saying about a product or a campaign, whether it's positive or negative, and so on. It then puts that data into a dashboard clients can access and its vertically organized analysts add their own qualitative perspective.

Mr. Fredericks said media companies also need comprehensive research, especially as they change into multimedia brands. "There are disconnects between the media silos," he said. "You need to think about the totality of your offering and not pigeonhole yourself in one area."
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