reading time: 10 mins

What is Conversational DNA?
Discover the AI-powered tool that helps you understand what your customers are saying, what they really want and how to deliver it.

March 12, 2020by Katie Masters

In this post, we’re going to take a deep dive into conversations and the role they play in today’s hyper-vocal, socially-charged world.

This isn’t a look at trolling or at the vitriol that exists in (too many) pockets of the web-based world. This is about the genuine conversations that go on all the time online and the benefits that comes from unlocking their ‘DNA’.

What is conversational DNA? We’ll explain that, as well as talking you through why it’s important; how it can be measured and the insights it offers to your brand.

Finally, we’ll look at how you can incorporate its measurement and analysis into your wider marketing and insight programmes to help grow your business.

It’s a long piece (right?!), so feel free to hop, skip and jump to whatever sections you find most useful. Enjoy the dive!

Table of contents

  1. What is Conversational DNA?
  2. How do customers communicate with businesses today?
  3. Why is it important to understand the Conversational DNA?
  4. The key characteristics of Conversational DNA
  5. 8 benefits of understanding the Conversational DNA surrounding your brand
  6. How to make better business decisions using Conversational DNA
  7. 3 steps to understanding Conversational DNA

And if you make it that far – read our final section on how Signoi can help you decode it.

What is Conversational DNA?

Conversational DNA is a term that refers to the key themes, topics and sentiment – the building blocks – that sit at the heart of every conversation. These strands are composed of: 

  • Subject matter. What’s being discussed?  
  • Emotions. How do the participants in the conversation feel about what’s being discussed?
  • Relationships. How do the participants in the conversation feel about – and impact on – one another?
  • Decisions. What is the outcome of the conversation? 

Why is Conversational DNA important? It’s important because it’s the way to understand what people are saying, why they are saying it and how those conversations will affect their actions. Let’s take a look at a simple example: 

The Lunchtime Conundrum

Cara: Are you hungry?  
Joe: A bit.
Cara: Do you want to go and get lunch?
Joe: Not yet.

In the conversation the subject matter is food. The emotions are Cara’s curiosity about whether Joe is hungry and Joe’s relative disinterest. The relationship between the pair shows that Cara is interested in – and willing to act on – Joe’s decisions. And the outcome: the real-world action driven by the conversation, is driven by Joe’s disinterest. 

Now broaden the perspective. Imagine a conversation in which lots of people are talking about your industry or brand. What’s being said, both directly and indirectly? What’s the tone of what’s being said? Is it positive or negative? How are these topics and themes making people feel? Who’s influencing who and in what way? What are the outcomes of that conversation going to be? 

Broaden the perspective again. Imagine multiple conversations taking place online on social media, on forums and reviews. Millions of people influencing one another in ways that affect the zeitgeist. What are the collective decisions about the best ways to eat; dress; decorate; work; entertain; live? How are those decisions going to affect your business? 

Today, there are a multitude of places where people can talk: Twitter; Instagram, Facebook, youtube, LinkedIn and Amazon to name a few. Stories flow across channels – news reports sparking debate on social media; print feeding audio feeding real-world debate – and back again. These conversations are fast, dynamic and quick to evolve. 

By unlocking the Conversational DNA surrounding your brand, your business benefits from understanding what people are thinking and saying. You understand the impact that their opinions are having on others – and on the broader narratives that affect your business; your competitors and your industry. 

According to Sprout Social’s 2017 Index brands form a much bigger percentage of the milestone conversations happening online than you might think: 

  • 50% of consumers include brands in milestone conversations to recommend them
  • 34% say they want to thank the brand
  • 34% do it because they’re looking for reciprocity from the brand in the way of a discount or incentive

How do customers communicate with businesses today? 

Your customers, clients and employees may have direct conversations with your business that give you valuable insights into how you are performing and what you need to do to improve. But those conversations represent a small fraction of the conversations that happen beyond your business, but either directly or indirectly affect your brand. 

The customer satisfaction expert Ruby Newell-Legner warns that the typical business hears from just 4% of its dissatisfied customers. The inference? Those customers are complaining in other forums. 

Most people speak about businesses more often than they speak to businesses. In their research into UK gambling brands, Brandwatch found that 96% of the people discussing brands online were not following those brands’ owned profiles. And – as an additional but important point – most people speak about subjects that are of interest to businesses more often than they speak directly about businesses themselves. 

So, what does that mean? It means: 

  • If you want to know what’s really being said you need to look at and interpret a wide range of external data sources and unpick the Conversational DNA.
  • To know what’s going on you need to understand how those conversations are feeding into one another. 
  • And to predict the outcomes of those conversations you need to understand what is having the biggest influence on people’s opinions and why

Why is it important to understand the Conversational DNA? 

When you understand the Conversational DNA you help your business to:

  • Stay abreast of current trends.
  • Innovate. 
  • Remain relevant. 

When businesses don’t stay abreast of current trends they fail. That’s what happened to Nokia. In the late 1990s and early 21st century, Nokia was the global leader in mobile phones. By 2013 its decline was so steep it sold its mobile phone division to Microsoft. What had gone wrong? It hadn’t spotted that the conversations around mobile phones were changing. Voice was no longer king. Data and apps were on the rise. 

The rise and fall of Blockbuster tells a similar story. Once upon a time Blockbuster was the video-rental giant of the movie world. But the company failed to listen to the technology conversation, turned down an offer from the fledgling company Netflix (who wanted to run Blockbuster online) and – unable to offer competitive streaming services – went bankrupt in 2010. 

Want more? The high street chain Tie Rack collapsed in the UK in 2013. Its demise was partly down to a failure to understand that men wanted to buy ties at the same time as buying their shirts. Polaroid didn’t listen to a market that was moving away from hard copy photos. And Segway didn’t listen to complaints that the machine was too pricey for a vehicle with no dedicated place to ride. 

Segway is a prime example of a brand that expected people to adapt to its product, rather than creating a product that was adapted to what people needed or wanted. But the brands and the businesses that are future-proofed are the ones that humanise data. According to NewMR organisations are confronting the reality that people do not rotate around brands, brands rotate around people and that the brands that will prosper will be those that have a people centric view. 

Humanising data

What does that mean? It means that when companies need to put people front and centre of what they do and why they do it. Products have to serve a purpose for people. Brands have to identify what purpose they serve and how to deliver that in the most effective way. 

And why does understanding Conversational DNA help you to do that? Because it helps you to understand why people are behaving as they are: the emotions and the needs that influence them. 

As cognitive-behavioural economist Leigh Caldwell points out, when we understand people’s emotions and imagination, “…we can uncover the deeper trends behind the surface behaviour, which tells us how to give customers what they really want. This lets us provide a better world for the consumer – and a more profitable set of tools for companies.”

4 key things to remember about Conversational DNA

  1. Conversations – especially online – do not have to be simply one way, or two way. They can be multi-directional. Customers can speak to you. They can speak about you. One customer can share feedback. Or many customers can share feedback with many other people. These conversations can be nuanced. They can be complex. And they can be driven by emotion as much as by fact.
  2. These conversations may also sit in a broader context. They can be affected by cultural or regional concerns and attitudes that need to be understood if you want to respond to them effectively and well.
  3. The people who want to talk about your products have a public forum in which to do it and they want what they have to say to be heard by you and your customers. These conversations are not taking place behind closed doors. They are out there in the open – and the tone and outcomes will have an influence on other people’s behaviour. 
  4. People like to communicate. We have evolved to be social animals: to share things and to pass information on. If you don’t know or understand what’s being passed on – or why – you won’t be able to affect the conversation, even if it centres on your brand.

8 benefits of understanding the Conversational DNA surrounding your brand. 

They may seem obvious, but its worth listing just why brands can’t ignore this vital clue to their customer experiences. Its not just about listening, its about hearing, analysing and understanding.

If you understand the Conversational DNA surrounding your brand you can understand:

  1. What people are saying about your industry.
  2. What people are saying about your brand.
  3. What people are saying about your competitors.
  4. What you are saying about your brand. 
  5. What people are hearing about your brand.
  6. Any difference between what you are saying and what people are hearing. 
  7. What people are saying back. 
  8. What to do about it. 

Make better business decisions

1. Understand your brand reputation and perception and how it needs to be honed

The emotional ‘feel’ generated by a business or a brand is generated by specific incidents that occur; responses to those incidents and to the perceived strengths and failings of that business (or wider industry). Deloitte’s 2019 research into ‘Driving Brand Loyalty with Emotion’ points out that when emotional connections are damaged, rational thinking rears up again. So, when you understand the specific things that generate emotions around your brand, you can address them directly. This has the potential to resolve issues; deepen engagement and build loyalty. 

2. Evolve your communication so that it makes a clear impact

People want to have their opinions heard and respected. When you know what someone is saying and address any issues directly and clearly, you enter into a genuine dialogue. As Impact stresses in their brilliant blog on Social Media Marketing  the importance of those two-way conversations increases engagement, expanding your reach with existing customers and potential new bases. 

3. Understand the trends that are affecting you. 

Unlocking the Conversational DNA reveals crucial insights into trends as they start to emerge. The process highlights what’s being talked about – both favourably and unfavourably – so that you can see what products/ activities/ pursuits/ personalities are attracting a critical mass of enthusiasts, and which aren’t. Understanding that allows you to make business-critical decisions about where your brand can benefit from those emerging trends. 

4. Understand what opportunities for innovation are opening up for you.

The insights offered by Conversational DNA also reveal the areas in which people’s needs are not being met: whether through poor customer service or a gap in the market. It illuminates the white space into which your business could potentially expand. 

5. Understand your customers’ experiences. 

Is there a gap between what you believe your business offers and provides – and what your customers believe that your business offers and provides? Do you really know what attracts your customers, or why other people reject your brand? Truly understanding the customer experience allows you to make the most of your real strengths and address the areas in which you’re not making headway. 

6. Understand what your employees feel and how to engage them. 

Your employees are as critical an audience for your business as your customers. Their feelings and opinions feed into, and impact on, the narrative around your brand. Positive, engaged, committed employees who believe in your values play a key role in helping businesses to succeed. So, it’s vital to understand how they feel about the workplace, why they feel that way and what you can do to address any concerns. As Deloitte points out in their employee insights report – 5 listening channels that can yield insight rich employee data if you want to know what your employee’s really think, ask fewer questions, and make them broader and more open-ended to give them the latitude to decide which issues are important for leaders to know.

3 steps to understanding Conversational DNA

1. Gather your data.

All sorts of freely available data are open to you, from:

  • NPS and Surveys
  • Social
  • Reviews and Forums
  • Internal data
  • Websites
  • Communications 
  • Documents and transcripts
  • News
  • Images

2. Decode your data.

To understand the convent and meaning of free-flowing interactions and unlock the Conversational DNA, it’s vital to use tools that can make sense of these forms of qualitative, unstructured data. Look out for our up-coming article on the best tools on the market to analyse unstructured data and feedback.

3. Act on your data.  

With this in-depth analysis, you can use your findings to:

  • Understand what people want.
  • Understand how your brand is perceived.
  • Understand how to change that perception.
  • Spot where you’ve vulnerable to competition.  
  • Improve your communications.
  • Lead the conversation.
  • Discover white space for innovation
  • See the trends that look set to challenge or boost your growth.

How Signoi decodes the Conversational DNA of any conversation. 

Signoi’s cutting-edge analytics platform uses the power of AI to automatically surface meaning from any form of data – both qualitative and quantitative – at speed and at scale.  That could be data privately held by your organisation; data gathered through research; public data or a combination. 

We combine neural net technology with analytical modules and associated metrics that are grounded in data science and the human sciences – semiotics; ethnography and psychology. This allows us to decode the explicit and the implicit meanings, themes and narratives embedded in the data – the Conversational DNA. 

Here’s how it works: 

  • You send us – or we source – the relevant data. 
  • We clean it. 
  • We fuse data from disparate sources, so that it works in combination, giving a multi-faceted overview of what’s being said; when; where and why. 
  • We run the data through our platform.
  • We use the results to create bespoke dashboards and reports that show what your data says; what’s driving those responses and what insights and foresights can be drawn. 

The Signoi team is running analysis and delivering insight as a service to agencies and brands while we build a fully-fledged SaaS tool to make the information goldmine of qualitative data available for everyone. To find out more about what we can do for you, click here