Monday, October 9, 2006
Interview with Janet Eden-Harris, CEO of Umbria
Janet Eden-Harris is CEO of Umbria (www.umbrialistens.com), a Boulder, Colorado-based, venture-backed startup that is using blogs to provide market intelligence. We spoke to Janet about how the firm is using online opinions and information to help provide information to companies about their brands and products.
Techrockies: Tell us a bit about Umbria--what's the idea behind the service?
Janet Eden-Harris: Umbria is a marketing intelligence company that analyzes the unaided opinions, perceptions, attitudes and behaviors of the online world (comprised of blogs, message boards, Usenet, product review sites, etc.) and distills it into actionable insights about companies, brands, products, people and issues. We leverage proprietary Natural Language Processing and machine learning algorithms to dissect the who, what and why of online opinion. We're particularly unique in our ability to segment blogosphere authors by age and gender. The insight gathered by Umbria is then offered to some of the world's leading brands, including Verizon, IBM, Microsoft, Wild Oats and many others.
Techrockies: Who uses these services, and why are blogs interesting to them?
Janet Eden-Harris: Companies that turn to Umbria as a conduit to "listen in" to the blogosphere are primarily interested in learning what their customers are thinking about their company, their brand(s), their products and their competitors. The beauty for us is that the medium is unbiased-bloggers are chatting with the online community in a form of an online diary, not responding to targeted questions. It's like the world's largest focus group.
Techrockies: Where'd the idea come from for the company?
Janet Eden-Harris: Umbria was originally founded by three entrepreneurs with extensive experience in the telecom and customer service industries. They recognized that enormous amounts of information was being generated by customers in the form of customer service requests, message boards and a new medium - blogs - that wasn't being captured or mined by companies interested in getting closer to their customers. However, from a marketing and research perspective, the nature of this consumer-generated content presented certain challenges-it's messy, ungrammatical, full of run-on sentences and acronyms, and often contains multiple, even conflicting, concepts in a single posting. The timing couldn't have been better for Umbria to launch a service capable of analyzing online opinions, perceptions, attitudes and behaviors, since simultaneously, the little-known medium of the blogosphere exploded and took on growth rates not seen since the advent of the Internet. Estimates show that there are currently more than 50 million blogs, and that number is climbing daily. And as bloggers expound on topics as diverse as where they went to eat last night to their political views, the blogosphere has evolved into a treasure trove of information for smart marketers.
Techrockies: Tell us a bit about your funding.
Janet Eden-Harris: Umbria is venture-backed by two Colorado-based funds, as well as one from Silicon Valley.
Techrockies: What's your background, and why'd you decide to join the company?
Janet Eden-Harris: I've spent my career running marketing organizations-from enterprise software in the supply chain world, to, most recently, one of the world's largest marketing research/insight firms. The appeal of the blogosphere and other consumer-generated content for a customer-oriented company was compelling. It's opened up a whole new way for companies to learn from and interact with their customers.
Techrockies: How far along is the firm, and are your services available yet?
Janet Eden-Harris: Umbria has been selling its solutions for 2 years, and we've worked for a roster of more than 40 companies, ranging from Verizon to General Mills to Wild Oats to IBM.
Techrockies: Finally, can you tell us any of the interesting things that your clients have been able to do based on this data, or any anecdotes on how this has been useful to them?
Janet Eden-Harris: Some of the most striking insights for clients come from analyzing WHO is the most passionate about their products and services. For example, Hallmark was really surprised at how strong they were with Gen Y females (typically 15 - 30 years old), a market they hadn't overtly targeted. Nike was pleased to learn that in spite of the scandal that created a negative backlash with most of the public, Kobe Bryant remained popular with their target customer - Gen Y males - enabling them to renew their sponsorship contract. Del Monte's pet division learned that women dominated the blogosphere conversation around pet food, and that baby boomer females were the most likely to think of their pets as extensions of the family and spend money to feed, clothe and arrange travel accommodations accordingly. You can instantly see how this kind of insight into the consumer segments can be used to more effectively to develop products and reach target customers with meaningful messages.