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How much extra reach is social media adding to your broadcast advertising spend? What creative approaches are clicking with customers and turning them into advocates for your brand? Where are your competitors winning on social media, and where are they vulnerable? What’s the real ROI on your social media spending?

These are some of the toughest questions in marketing, the ones that lead even seasoned pros to start mumbling about “gut instinct” and anecdotal evidence. This is where the chain of hard metrics dissolves into the mists of uncertainty, the edge of the map beyond which lie monsters.

Fortunately for big brands, an intrepid band of explorers are helping to chart out this undiscovered country, applying the kind of big data analytics that has only recently become broadly accessible through the power of the cloud.

iTrend is a cloud-based competitive intelligence platform that uses social analytics to get a precise bead on the strategies of other players in the marketplace to identify potential weaknesses and opportunities. iTrend presents the data through clear visuals, dashboards and heatmaps that make it easy for business users without hardcore data skills to figure out where competitors are gaining traction, where their social influence is coming from, what people like and hate about their products and more. The company launched in 2013 and was able to rapidly deploy and scale its service by taking advantage of Microsoft Azure cloud platform. It counts the World Health Organization, Dell Computer, Couchbase and Microsoft among its clients.

Heroic.ly helps brands optimize their marketing and media spend by using predictive analytics to automatically segment and value customers by where they are in the buying journey.  By continuously monitoring your campaigns, media and content efforts Heroic.ly helps marketers identify when and how many customers are moving from engagement and awareness to active consideration and intent to buy. Using statistical analysis, Heroic.ly helps identify when/why/where to make campaign, media and site strategies changes in order to achieve a higher ROI. Plus, marketers will be happy to receive reports full of “customers, dollars and cents” information making budget justification requests more straightforward and spend decisions easier.

Tomorrowish is a B2B service with a consumer-facing front end product that captures, curates, and records the real-time social conversations accompanying a live or broadcast video so that time-shifting viewers can enjoy the full social experience without spoiling the ending. Think of it as a Social Media DVR. The platform displays social media comments (Tweets, Facebook posts, etc.) synchronized to a video event such as a TV show or commercial spot, with the ability to search and filter based on keywords and users, and a contextually-aware filtering system that brings the best and most popular comments to the fore. As a tool for marketers, this could help put the meat on the bones of more broad-based omnichannel social analytics.

iSpot.tv connects paid TV advertising to digital media to give brands a clear picture of how their commercial spots are landing with consumers. The platform monitors the top 100 TV channels to capture which spots are running when, and correlates that information with real-time social and video analytics to measure brand sentiment, shares, mentions and viewing patterns. The result is a dashboard that gives marketers a precise read on the total paid plus earned reach of every spot, including an efficiency score that measures performance against the discrete media cost of each instance so media buyers know exactly what networks, time slots and versions of each spot are getting them the biggest bang for the buck. The dashboard also provides an industry-wide view of who’s on the air when, so brands can rate their performance against competitors.

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These are just a few of the startups using the power of the cloud and advances in data analytics, visualization and machine learning to solve some of the enduring mysteries of marketing and media.

For CMOs and others tasked with attaching real ROI numbers to marketing spend, services like these are one way organizations can get fast answers to critical questions.

However, these kinds of tactical approaches are the only the beginning of the larger conversations that big organizations need to have around data-driven marketing processes. The real progress starts when brands are able to systematically and strategically incorporate useful data from multiple sources, including internal systems, into all aspects of decision-making. Getting to that point will take more than just a cool startup with a clever solution.

Tzahi (Zack) Weisfeld is Head of Microsoft Ventures Europe and Global Accelerators Program. Business Insider (May 2014) named Zack as one of the 10 top Most Influential Israelis in Tech Worldwide.


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