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4 Ways to Employ a Human-Centric Approach in a Tech-Centric MRX World

Tech and innovation are buzzwords in the market research industry, however there is a need for a more human-centric approach to research to find meaningful insights.

What is the first word you think of when you hear the words, “Market Research?” We posed this question to the MRX agencies, innovators and client-side practitioners attending Greenbook’s Insight Innovation Exchange Conference (IIeX) in Amsterdam.

“Data!” cried a tall gentleman towards the back.

“Numbers!” “Insights!” voices echoed across the room.

“Tech & Innovation!” cried another. This being rather expected as IIeX is arguably one of the largest and most influential tech and innovation conferences in market research. Tech and innovation was literally the theme of every other talk featured at the conference.

But what about people?

If the essence of market research is to better understand human attitudes, emotions, motivations, and behaviors, where was the focus on people themselves? How did we get to a place where the word ‘people’ isn’t even a top-of-mind association with the words ‘market research’?

The rise of automation and machine learning in the last 30 years has completely transformed the industry, paving the way for exciting new methodologies like passive metering, eye-tracking and even online communities. Arguably, we are living in one of the most exciting times the industry has ever known. But is all this technology really getting us closer to the people we so eagerly seek to understand?

The argument for tech and innovation in market research is that it gives you bigger, better, faster data. At one time, data was expensive and required rigorous means to obtain it. Now it’s cheap and virtually everywhere. So, what do we do with all this data? Well thankfully, our analytical tools continue to evolve as well. So now we don’t just have insights – we have LOTS of insights!  This is great, right? Thank you technology!

But how fruitful are all these insights if we don’t take the time to truly understand the context of the people that they’re about?  

When designing and planning for any research project, shouldn’t research be continuously asking: Where do people sit in the context of this tech-centric MRX world?

But let’s take this a step further.  To truly employ a human-centric lens to the designing and planning of research, we needed to ask a different question entirely:

Where does tech and innovation sit in the daily lives of people?

Using this simple query, we began to reframe our approach to research in a more human-centric way. And the more we did it, the more we realised that this orientation truly gets us closer to understanding people in a way that the tech-centric model doesn’t.

Here are 4 key ways to employ a human-centric approach to market research in your business.

1. Find people in their native technology environment.

One of the UK’s biggest news publishers approached us to help them understand their followers on Snapchat. They knew how many people followed them, but they didn’t know anything about them. Knowing that finding their Snapchat followers on a recruitment panel would be tricky, we instead posted a recruitment flyer on Snapchat Discover.

The result? Over 300 of their target responded in 36 hours. Not only did we use Snapchat as a recruitment tool, we used it in our methodology. This already engaged audience provided us with insightful Snaps throughout the project.

2. Even when talking to people virtually, frame activities in their real lives.

Talking about yourself doesn’t come easy for everyone – and let’s face it, ‘Tell me about yourself’ feels more like a job interview question than a query intending to truly build rapport and understand someone. But most Millennials are familiar with Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore’s film 50 First Dates – and it is this film that provides us with the inspiration for a ‘Get to Know You!’ task. We ask people to imagine that they suffer from chronic memory loss – and that the only way to live a relatively normal life is to upload a video of themselves that details their lives so they can watch it every morning and remember who they are. This playful exercise gets even the most timid and reserved people to open up and allow us to truly understand who they are and how they live.

3. Bring tech in-home for advanced face-to-face methodologies.

A global beer brand commissioned us to conduct creative ad testing for a new advert they were launching. Initially, they proposed either a focus group or online community for testing, but as they were trying to target a slightly older audience, we knew this wouldn’t necessarily be the best option. We drew inspiration from the UK TV Show Gogglebox, which is essentially a Reality TV show whose entire premise involves watching people watch popular TV shows in their native home environments. On the show, the TV viewers laugh, comment and interact with their family / friends in an organic, in-situ way in response to the various TV shows they are watching.  All making for a surprisingly interesting and often hilarious Reality TV Show – and an even more surprising testimony to the general public’s interest in human behaviour.

As researchers, we wanted that kind of reaction as well. So, we went to people’s houses armed with the advert on a tablet and a video camera. We told them to imagine that they were on the TV show Gogglebox and asked them to watch and comment with their friends and families on the advert as they naturally would. The output featured incredible video footage of people opening up to their friends and families in their natural environment, producing real responses in a real setting to the creative ad test.

4. Put yourself in people’s shoes first to identify the best means to speak to them.

What happens when you have a particularly difficult or hard-to-reach audience?  A UK government body approached us with a creative campaign that was intended to engage the entire UK populous, including vulnerable and marginalised people such as those with disabilities, those who were illiterate, specific ethnic and religious minorities, and refugees who had been in the UK for less than two years. Where were we going to find such niche demographics of people? And better yet, how would we best speak to them?  

We began by first putting ourselves in their shoes. Who were they speaking to already? Who did they already have trust and rapport with? By putting ourselves in their shoes, we realised we weren’t the best people to conduct the fieldwork at all.

We knew they would likely be speaking to religious leaders, NGO/charity workers, and social workers. So we recruited five community leaders around the UK to interview people they knew fit our criteria. We delivered robust and detailed training to the community leaders over Skype, teaching them how to best lead the interview. The community leaders videotaped their interviews so we could analyse responses.

They opened up to the Community Leaders in ways they would not ordinarily do with a London-based moderator. And in turn, the Community Leaders provided us with the context while they relayed their own learnings to us. And as such, we were able to get even closer to understanding our target audience.

In this case, technology wasn’t the right answer for speaking to these specific people. However, it was incredibly useful in helping us train our Community Leaders.

After presenting these case studies to the IIeX Conference, we were somewhat surprised to see just how innovative the idea of putting people first has become in the market research industry.

And shouldn’t that suggest a wider re-framing issue?

That although we are living in one of the most exciting times of the industry, we need to take a step back from the glitz and glam of the latest technology and ask ourselves: Where does tech/innovation sit in the lives of people? After all, all the data and insights in the world are meaningless if we don’t seek to understand the context of the people they are about.

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Jessica Long

Jessica Long

Research Director, LRWTonic