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The Future Is…Now!

Everyone from ESOMAR to IIR, and more grass roots players like NextGen MR, the NewMR Festival, and The GRIT initiative are focusing on MR innovation and promoting disruptive technologies as a key driver of industry change. This embracing of the future today is exciting.

The Future Is Now This week three very interesting blog posts were published that all deal with the future of market research. I’ll go through each of them in a minute and comment, but in general what struck me is that although the focus of each was the future, many of the technologies and techniques that were discussed are being deployed right now. In a very real sense, the future is happening now and I think we’re already past the tipping point, we just don’t know it yet.  Let’s look at each of the articles and see if you agree with my conclusions!

First, the estimable Ian Lewis on the Cambiar Blog writes about What Will Market Research Look Like in 2020?. The article summarizes the results of a series of discussions posted across LinkedIn groups on the subject of what the future of our industry will look like. Ian makes the point that a few years ago most of us would not have anticipated the digital revolution, rise of social media, or global spread of mobile networks in all their forms. That said, it does seem to be reasonable to take the current trajectory of technology evolution and make some assumptions about where we’re headed. Here are his conclusions:

We envision a paradigm shift by 2020, driven by digitalization and advances in computing power and data mining capabilities.  The fundamental premise is that research in 2020 will represent a continuous and organic flow of knowledge.  Today maybe 80% of marketing questions are addressed by conducting a market research project.  In 2020, we think that leading-edge companies (probably led by CPG and tech) will address 80% of marketing issues by “fishing the river” of information.  These companies will have invested heavily in information base development and mining tools, customizing their own river of information that will include both internal and external information (and not just data – ethnographies and videos will all be tributaries flowing into their information river).  And they will likely have self-serve capabilities that enable marketers to get solutions for most of their questions. This threatens to disintermediate the role of today’s market research/consumer insight person.   In our new world, the knowledge exists before the business question is formed.

This strikes me as pretty close to the mark, because it is already happening today. The issue is that MR isn’t paying much attention because we have not been invited to the party yet; it’s happening within the CMO and CTO organizations (which are beginning to merge into a new, single role). Dr. Rado Kotorov writes about predictive analytics on Mashable and details many of these advances happening now. Dr. Kotorov is Chief Innovation Officer at Information Builders, and is responsible for emerging reporting, analytic and visualization technologies. He has developed analytic models and applications for the pharmaceutical, retail, CPG, financial and automotive industries, so I think he is a great expert witness! It’s a good article, and the crux is that social media and mobile networks, in addition to other digital communication channels, create an unparalleled opportunity for data collection, insight generation, and enhanced predictive marketing opportunities. Ultimately, this new stream of data will allow marketers and consumers to be engaged in a deeply synergistic and reciprocal value-driven relationship. Here are a few excerpts:

Sentiment Analysis: As sites like Twitter and Facebook gain value to the business world, many companies have cropped up to analyze and establish what the sentiment is of the collective online intelligence and also to identify individuals with influence and authority. Companies including Klout, ViralHeat and Radian6 all scan blogs and other social media channels with predictive models to determine if the content surrounding a brand or person is negative, positive or neutral. As this information becomes increasingly valuable to businesses of all sizes, these sentiment analysis companies are expected to grow rapidly.

Market Fluctuation: Social media channels are open to everyone. Day traders, retail investors and analysts are cruising around on Twitter and Facebook. What these types of people say and do online is not insignificant in an era when [Flash Crashes and Fat Fingers] are being closely scrutinized and regulated. New models are cropping up to predict stock fluctuations based on Twitter posts. Similar to sentiment analysis, these companies are able to look at the total number of tweets, as well as positive and negative comments to predict whether a stock price will go up or down. These types of companies will become a hot commodity as investors begin to rely on the wisdom of crowds.

Recommendation Engines: No one likes to be bombarded with irrelevant offers and content while using their favorite social network. But the more active you are online, the more effectively predictive analytics can work to deliver targeted and relevant offers.

Sometimes it feels like Facebook knows you better than you know yourself. RSVPed “Yes” to that big gala? You may see a discount offer for Saks. [Are you a woman between the ages of 18 and 34? A Facebook ad may tell you how you can lose those extra inches around your waist.] These offers are no longer random and are therefore increasingly effective. Leveraging the existing data from your previous activity to predict what will happen in the future is becoming, rightly, more prevalent and valuable to social networks that can sell this promise to businesses and intermediaries.

Location-Based Marketing: Do you walk down the same street at dinner time every day? Wish restaurants on that street would compete in real-time for your business?

As social networks add in more location-aware features like Facebook Places and whole new businesses are built on the promise of geo-location including SCVNGR and ShopKick, predictive analytics deliver insights into where groups and individuals will be and when, not to mention what their interests may be. For businesses, there is big money to be spent on location-based advertising in the coming years. As a result, social networks can run their existing location data through predictive models to provide companies with future insights into where to allocate their marketing and advertising budgets for the biggest returns.

As you can see, many of the predictions Ian makes are already well on their way towards being a reality, and the questions he raises in his post regarding how the MR industry will respond to this new model are very timely indeed.

Continuing to look into the crystal ball, the “King of MR Prognosticators”, Robert Moran offers us a twofer this week as he writes on his Future Of Insight blog about A New Take on Crowdsurfing and Will MR Go To The Sims?. Robert is a master futurist and these two posts show why. In them he discusses how advances in geo-location social data aggregation can be used to track population “hot spots” and of the development of both human-driven gaming and digital agents for predictive modeling. Robert talks about how these technologies may be deployed for MR, but once again, it’s already happening today.

In an article from last year by MobileBehavior titled TREND: Mobile Crowdsourcing – Using Humans as Sensors the author profiles how several firms have launched that use geo-location data from mobile networks for insight generation, crowdsourcing, and predictive analytics. They make some really interesting points about how this data is, and will be, used.

Ever since the dawn of web, businesses, researchers, and even artists have been experimenting with crowdsourcing. Tapping the wisdom of the crowds is not just a smart PR and CRM strategy, it’s a much more efficient way to collect information. Sentiment analysis, Aardvark’s human search engine, and Victor & Spoils are all examples.

Mobile opens up a new angle on crowdsourcing, one that takes on a more stealth approach. While social media thrives on active participation, powerful data is being collected via our mobile devices while we, for the most part, remain unaware. Around the clock, our phones are collecting real-world information, mapping social processes, and transforming us into human sensors.

We naturally navigate the world using five key senses: sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell. With these we construct the realm we live in. In the past, people have discussed ways to integrate these with computers, or build on them using technology. You could say that this is already happening. The current iPhone has about ten sensors including GPS, a compass, microphone, and camera. Smart phones can collect and process the data we are sensing 24/7, even measure the impact of ads we see and hear. With a guided purpose, businesses are using this to observe and innovate while we passively contribute information from our traveling selves

Sense Networks is one of the companies mentioned in the article, and their MacroSense product is an amazing application with multiple uses within the MR space. Here is a summary from their website:

Mobile location data is the richest data source currently available for understanding consumer behavior. Through mobile phones, navigation devices and vehicles, location data is already being generated by half the people on our planet. Macrosense analyzes large amounts of this mobile location data in real-time.

Macrosense enables companies to understand customers and anticipate needs in order to deliver accurate recommendation, personalization and discovery – better than ever before – without retaining customers’ original location data.

Macrosense enables companies to:

  • Better understand customers using existing data, without requiring
    any change in behavior
  • Segment and cluster customers into marketing groups based on actual
    unbiased behavior with unprecedented accuracy and relevance
  • Personalize recommendations and advertisements based on popularity
    with “people like me”
  • Automatically find and present the most relevant suggestions to a
    particular audience
  • Identify group influencers
  • Understand the significance of particular behaviors in predicting
    consumer response
  • Understand modality and intent in real-time, i.e. car shopping or nightlife
  • Measure the effect of marketing spend on behavior

PlaceGraph technology, integrated into the Macrosense platform, allows companies to take advantage of the data-driven approach to extract value from their location data, one of the most unbiased and rich sources of intelligence on human behavior.

I’ve written before about what game changers mobile and LBS are for MR, and here is further evidence of how this technology can be utilized to do more advanced behavioral research than anyone thought possible just a few years ago. For the moment most firms seems to be thinking of simply applying the online survey paradigm to mobile, a mentality that is limiting in the extreme. One firm that gets it is Hall & Partners: in a recent article in  MarketingWeek, Director of Innovation  Tom Woodnutt makes the case for embracing pragmatism when it comes to the potential for mobile research:

Rather frustratingly, it looks like the research industry is stubbornly staring at the opportunity of mobile research through an outdated prism of the past.

If researchers spent more time focusing on how to make mobile research engaging and less worrying about its scientific purity, then clients would benefit more from it. There is huge potential in mobile technology because of its ability to provide in the moment data and more convenient feedback on the participant’s terms. However, in order to get the most from mobile, the research industry should embrace the idea of being part of the brand experience and leave certain traditional psudeo-scientific principles behind.

Well said Tom! The whole article is well worth reading, and I agree completely that in order to maximize the potential of all of these new technologies we have to be willing, and able, to reinvent ourselves.

On the gaming front, there are numerous companies exploring serious gaming as a research technique, and as I wrote about last week, BrainJuicer has recently launched a digital agent product that has significant ramifications for the social media research space. Although adoption may be limited and the technologies are in their infancy, these future methodologies exist today and are being aggressively developed by many innovative firms, most of which come from outside of the traditional MR space.

The good news is that everyone from ESOMAR to IIR, and more grass roots players like NextGen MR, the NewMR Festival, and The GreenBook Research Industry Trends initiative are focusing on MR innovation and promoting disruptive technologies as a key driver of industry change. This embracing of the future today is exciting to see, and although our industry is facing unprecedented challenges, the opportunity is even greater. The future is now, and by unleashing our creativity, imaginations, and entrepreneurial spirit what a marvelously interesting future it will be!

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4 responses to “The Future Is…Now!

  1. Thanks for sharing this interesting comment on the Future of Marketing Research. Two things occur to me.

    One–this type of research is all about behavior. There are limits to just using behavioral data–we don’t understand the why behind it. Two people can exhibit the very same behaviors for very different reasons. To understand the why, we must still ask questions. There may be new ways to answer questions, but there will always be a need to ask them.

    Two–we must be sensitive to how the collecting of data is perceived by consumers. I have just read another article describing a meeting of the ACLU that is discussing this type of “data aggregation” and “custom market segmentation” as if they are evil things. There could certainly be a consumer backlash if these new methods of collecting, aggregating, and selling information are not done with sensitivity to privacy issues.

    All in all, there may be exciting possibilities for new types of research, but there will also need to be new standards for ethical behavior on the part of those collecting behavioral data, and a balance between the use of behavioral data as well as asking questions about the why behind the behavior.

    Jane Thurston

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