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Market Research Enters The Matrix: My Adventures With Virtual Reality At TMRE



Others have done a great job covering the sessions at The Market Research Event (check out the TMRE blog for good stuff), so I thought I’d share a more general take in a series of posts on what what I saw and heard at the conference that was interesting and instructive for the industry. This is the first in a 3 part series I’ll publish over the next few days.

Although there was much that stood out for me, one thing rose above all others, partly due to coolness and novelty, but mostly because it showed the potential power of harnessing technologies developed for vastly different purposes to deliver more impact for researchers.  That was Virtual Reality, courtesy of Lieberman Research Worldwide.

If you saw my recent interview with LRW CEO Dave Sackman you know that the company is betting big on utilizing immersive experiences combined with what they call “pragmatic brain science” as being a highly impactful approach to address some business questions. In theory I got it, but seeing is believing. LRW had a massive presence at the event and rented a room to showcase their tech in action, and it was quite the experience that all who tested were utterly unprepared for.

Before I give you my take, here is a video of my actual session. Warning: I use some colorful language during this session so I apologize in advance. It was a pretty visceral experience, and my reactions were reflective of that. It’s also pretty funny, so please feel free to poke fun of me – my wife and kids have been doing so mercilessly!



Again, seeing is believing, but I can attest that this was utterly immersive. More importantly, it was proof positive that rationality often has little to do with our decision making and responses, particularly in a sensory-focused experience. That is an important consideration for researchers who have built many of our favorite tools on explicit, rational measurement. Certainly rationally I was aware of the bit of trickery being performed on my mind, but my unconscious implicit responses were in control.

Now, this tech has a ways to go before it becomes cost-effectively scalable, although commercial initiatives such as Oculus Rift promise address those issues. For now it’s akin to EEG labs; it requires pretty extensive infrastructure in controlled environments, although I suspect in 2-3 years we’ll see vastly less expensive versions that consumers can participate in at home or in central locations at a low project pricepoint. I would also expect to see the tech incorporating unconscious measurement tools like eye tracking, facial coding, and perhaps even simplified EEG sensors. All of that tech exists today at a fairly low cost, and could add quantitative measurement of inherently qualitative experiences.

Kudos to LRW for really pushing the boundaries here; this will be something to watch closely over the next few years.

Next I’ll cover the “buzz” at TMRE from both the client and supplier side perspectives. Look for that post in the next day or so.

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3 responses to “Market Research Enters The Matrix: My Adventures With Virtual Reality At TMRE

  1. I would think cost effectiveness is the least of the issues this new technology has to deal with. Walking around with a headset the dimensions of a tyrannosaurus rex might be something that could lead to biases like fear, elevated heart rates and disorientation. Someone might explain what relevance this has to real life, unless you like walking around with over-sized electronic equipment on your head. I seem to have missed the point again.

    1. Hey Chris,

      You are right that this set-up is a bit impractical other than in a lab environment, but the next generation such as Oculus Rift are very inexpensive and much more streamlined; they are designed fro consumer use. Imagine the possibilities for concept testing, prototyping, design testing, etc… in labs, CLTs, or home use. Certainly we are a few years out from that, but not many years. The point is to think of how new tech in all it’s forms can be adapted for MR; that doesn’t mean it will be, but exploring the potential is necessary.

  2. We’ve played with this type of tech before to see if we could use it in our VR simulations. Yes, it’s way cool and yes, it’s way expensive. The biggest hurdle though is getting shoppers to behave normally when wearing headgear and using a gamepad or walkpad to locomote. The training time for acclimation can be long and the physiological anomolies one experiences still make it problematic for research (and explains why Dave & Busters keep large buckets by their VR games). At the end of the day, the question becomes how real VR has to be – we’ve always found success with a realistic shelf set is sufficient – you don’t need a whole store environment for VR results to map to reality.

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