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Wanna See Into the Future? These Startups Can Help

A new wave of predictive- and real-time-technology startups are redefining how sharp smart tech can be.
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While running a large ad agency in 2011, Randy Browning found that brands focused marketing efforts on traditional advertising. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.) But by doing so, he realized, they couldn't respond quickly to customers' ongoing chatter on the Web. What if, he wondered, you could predict what consumers would talk about next? "We needed a crystal ball," he says.

Today, Browning runs Blab. Its software, BlabPredicts, scans Web conversations to forecast whether such exchanges will go viral or fizzle out. This and other companies' interesting new predictive or anticipatory technologies, such as MindMeld and Viralheat, promise, when deployed correctly, to boost your business in real time--and sometimes just ahead of it.

How Predictive Tech Works

Similar to how Pandora analyzes music, Blab's algorithms collect, classify, and pattern real-time online conversations, each day scanning more than 100 million posts across 50,000 sites. (The software can analyze text, videos, comments, and metatags around photos, and decipher any language.) Blab then compares chatter with similar past exchanges, determining whether a conversation will die or thrive and become a huge viral boost or a public relations nightmare. Browning claims 70 percent accuracy on these predictions.

The app MindMeld works with actual conversations. When activated, it uses your iPad to "listen" to what's being discussed, then pulls from the Web relevant information about those topics and displays the results in a feed updated in real time. Amy Webb, founder of the consulting and strategy firm Webbmedia Group, compares MindMeld with Mad Men's Joan Harris: the supersmart assistant ever ready to remind you of all you can't recall during conversations.

Predicting What's Next--for Less

Many of these tools can be had cheaply, says Webb. MindMeld is a $4 app. A version of Viralheat, to help you target customers on the basis of social-media posts mentioning significant life events such as getting engaged or becoming pregnant, is free in Apple's App Store.

The more established social-media monitoring tool SocialBro, which suggests the best time to post tweets and can help anticipate which of your followers are most likely to respond to them, is available for $14 per month. "A small business could build its own predictive analytics marketing" by using such apps alone, says Webb. The result is as cheap as a fortune cookie but a lot more accurate.

Contextual Cues

The latest in predictive tech understands context even without certain keywords. Blab knew, on a certain Sunday last February, that a tweet saying "109 yards in 11 seconds. I can't get off the couch in 11 seconds" was Super Bowl-related.

Blab's clients pay $3,000 to $10,000 per month, but Blab will soon offer a cheaper version focusing on chatter around events. Basketball star Kevin Durant accepted the NBA's Most Valuable Player award in May with a heartfelt speech in which he called his mom "the real MVP." With Blab, a florist could have gotten an early hint that Durant's remarks would be a huge hit, and created a promotion capitalizing on the viral response just as it happened.

IMAGE: Getty Images
From the July-August 2014 issue of Inc. magazine




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