Scout Labs, an interesting variation on market-research services, comes out of beta on Wednesday. Briefly, you feed it your brand name and some key words, and it scours the Web--blog posts and Twitter items, mostly--to see what people are saying about your product or company.
The competitive advantage: Compared with other market research tools, it's cheap: $250 a month for the standard package.
Scout Labs CEO Jennifer Zeszut said typical online market-research services, like Neilsen's BuzzMetrics, Visible Technologies TruCast, Cymfony, and Collective Intellect, cost more because they require manual intervention. Each report or dashboard is a custom job.
Scout Labs, by contrast, is automated, down to its core technological deliverable, which is not just collating online opinion about your product, but gauging its sentiment as positive, negative, or neutral.
Zeszut said that Scout Labs will get sentiment right (which is defined as in agreement with a human customer) about 72 percent of the time. That sounds pretty loose, but she said that if you ask three people to gauge the sentiments of articles about a product, they'll only be in agreement with each other 82 percent of the time.
Plus, you can correct Scout Labs' ratings when you see an error, and it will learn from it.
The demo I saw featured some cool data displays, like a graph showing how "share of voice" for a product compared with its competitors over time, and one showing the positive/negative perception changing over time. The standard dashboard view shows how your keywords are faring day-to-day. For example, if you worked at Comcast and had "Comcast sucks" as a keyword phrase, you'd see how you were doing each day on the dissatisfied customer front. (A primary goal for a market research product is to help companies stay ahead of angry customers, so that would be a good thing to track.)
In addition to its cool tools for gathering and presenting information about how your business is being perceived, Scout Labs also helps you act on the news. For example, you can create a discussion thread around a blog post, Twitter item, or YouTube video, and automatically e-mail an alert about it out to your team. You can also tag items to collect them in batches for further study.
Scout is not priced by user, but by the number of keywords you can search for in an account. There are the budget plan at $99 a month (for five terms), the standard plan at $249 a month (25 terms), and additional plans for public relations and marketing agencies that let users set up "workspaces" for different clients and mete out access to those workspaces to their customers.
Scout looks like a smart progression in the market of real-time sentiment analytics. I haven't tried it over time myself, so I can't comment on how effective and accurate it is. But conceptually it's reminiscent to me of Google Analytics, which democratized Web measurement. Scout isn't free unfortunately, but its pricing undercuts traditional services dramatically. And for the engaged marketer, it will likely offer a lot of useful information. Product marketers who want to cast their lot with standard consultants may still find the old model more comfortable, though.
The company has raised an undisclosed amount of funding in two rounds from Minor Ventures, run by Halsey Minor, who was one of CNET Networks' founders.