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The Semantic Web and a New Kind of Marketing

By Jacob E. Dawson (Guest Blogger)

Ever since web pioneer Tim Berners-Lee publicly proposed the Semantic Web in 2001 as “…an extension of the current web in which information is given well-defined meaning, better enabling computers and people to work in cooperation”, it has been a revolution waiting to happen, always just a year or two away. In fact, the buzz around the Semantic Web hit a high in 2004, yet has virtually disappeared from the popular consciousness in the past decade. However, at the risk of crying wolf, tech innovators and world-leading companies including IBM and Google have put their considerable weight behind the concept, and finally – after all these years – the Semantic Web is poised to add an entirely new layer of meaning on top of the Internet as we know it. Within this article I’ll look at the potential impact the Semantic Web and its related technologies (natural language processing, semantic search and sentiment analysis) will have on the marketing industry.

As Easy as Pi?

When we talk about the Semantic Web, we’re talking about computers parsing huge amounts data with the help of a new kind of markup and query protocols, a complex task that has been a goal of computing since Alan Turing published “Computing Machinery and Intelligence” in 1950. The challenges the Semantic Web faces include the sheer scale of the internet, the vagueness and idiosyncrasies of human language, ambivalence, inconsistency, and the creation of intentionally false information (what’s the difference between a work of fiction and a piece of propaganda?). Other challenges include the need for web developers to adhere to common standards, alongside accounting for the different syntactical structures of the world’s 7,000 languages. On top of that, in regards to semantic search, a search engine not only has to decipher a query – it has to decipher a query in relation to the profile of the searcher. It’s a Herculean task, yet great strides have been made in recent years, and we’ve only just scratched the surface.

What Marketers Want

Let’s move on to how the Semantic Web relates to marketing. The Holy Grail of marketing is to be able to know exactly what a customer wants, when they want it (feel free to argue!). By understanding their motivations and desire – by listening to what they say on a mass scale, and actually understanding it – we will be able to tailor communications at an individual level previously unheard of. Instead of laboriously conducting focus-groups ten people at a time, imagine having an unlimited, continuous, and real-time focus-group offering up genuine opinions without so many egregious instances of group think, omission and irrelevancy. One of the greatest potential benefits of the Semantic Web lies in its ability to bring meaning to most of the unstructured data / text on the internet. Even in the enterprise sphere 85% of data is unstructured. This is where the real gold mine for marketing lies – in the huge, unexplored territory of people’s unfiltered thoughts and feelings in relation to products, services, advertising campaigns and communication strategies. Crunching Big Data to inform decisions, with the help of a structured Semantic Web and the twin blades of natural language processing and sentiment analysis is going to open up opportunities for marketers that we could previously only dream about.

Current Examples of Semantic Web Technologies in Action

Facebook Open Graph

Facebook’s Open Graph is a great example of the power of semantic metadata. It’s already out in the wild and being used by marketers all over the world to engage with their audience and tailor communications at an individual level. The core idea of being able to make connections between disparate clusters of data becomes less abstract when we see it as the ability to gain clear insight into consumer demographics, continually optimize campaigns and craft communication strategies with unprecedented precision.

Google’s Knowledge Graph

Google’s Knowledge Graph is another example of using semantic technologies to discover the relationships between objects. To quote Amit Singhal (SVP, Engineering at Google); “[The Knowledge Graph]…is a critical first step towards building the next generation of search, which taps into the collective intelligence of the web and understands the world a bit more like people do.” As more and more online marketers clue on to the changes underway, there will likely be more effort placed on creating a brand-oriented semantic territory – a series of connections between the product and service domains that a brand wishes to dominate as an authority.

IBM Sentiment Analysis

One of the most exciting current examples of applying semantic technologies to unstructured data is IBM’s recent push of the ‘Social Sentiment Index’, a practical example of analytics and natural language processing used to derive a future consumer trend by parsing a range of social media platforms. Switched-on and forward-thinking marketers will be licking their lips at the thought of being able to gain an edge on competitors by preparing for and assimilating nascent trends – before they’ve even started. The ability to ‘…measure trends across cultural domains’will put marketers in a prime position to engage with an audience on equal footing, the ultimate realization of permission marketing.

What’s Next?

Now is the time to begin educating yourself on the technologies the Semantic Web is comprised of, research the services that are already available for you to use, and keep abreast of new developments. Although the buzz around the term has died-down, the reality is already upon us, and the functionality will continue to improve over the next 2 – 3 years until it becomes an essential part of the Internet, and in every marketer’s toolbox. And that’s something we can all understand. What are your thoughts on the Semantic Web? Are you excited by the prospects, or do you feel it’s a whole lot of hot air? Let us know your thoughts in the comments; we’d love to hear from you!

About the Author:

Jacob E. Dawson works with Delivery Hero and is an entrepreneur and inbound marketing consultant with a passion for creating value! You can follow Jacob on twitter @jacobedawson and find him on Google+.

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