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Single Direction Technology is Moving: Why It’s Vital to Consumer Behavior Research

Those who are astute in adopting evolving technologies and all their sensory capabilities will be in position to thrive and reap the rewards of better data.

Evolving Technology and Consumer Behavior Research



On two occasions I have been asked, “Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?” … I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question. —CHARLES BABBAGE, PASSAGES FROM THE LIFE OF A PHILOSOPHER


The term “Garbage In, Garbage Out” was inspired by that quote above, and while it’s traditionally used in technology, it has become vital to market research. It means that no matter how perfect your model, your results are ultimately limited to the quality of your data.

With over 1.4 billion smartphones in the hands of consumers worldwide, an increasing number of tablets, and wearable technology on the horizon, data collection has never been more accessible. As you read below, you will discover that technology has been evolving in a direction much more important than convenient access to your Samsung Galaxy or your iPhone.

In the early 1980’s, the personal computer brought technology from a commercially-powered behemoth to a single desk in our homes. It moved from an industrial environment to where we physically spend our time.

Since that epoch, accessing technology has evolved from sitting down next to your PC at the computer desk, to sitting down virtually anywhere with your laptop in front, to tapping your tablet display at any location, to voice activating your smartphone while doing virtually anything at any time. From walking to the computer desk at home, to finding a seat at any location, to simply reaching for the iPhone in your pocket lies an important trend. We’re physically moving less to voluntarily engage with technology.

Big Data is Everywhere

Consistent with devices having become smaller and physically closer to us, the technology we cannot see has likewise become ever-present in every move we make. The data that once ran through only plugged-in cables is now initiated by us, consumed by us and transmitted all around us through audio, video, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, gyroscopes, infrared, cellular, satellites and more.

We speak within the earshot of vocal recognition, we move our body within the detection of a gyroscope, we glance within sight of Google Glass’s observation, and we trek within eyeshot of iBeacon’s microlocation and GPS. The presence of these sensory technologies continues to envelop us – from Nike+ sneakers tracking athletic performance and intensity, to wrist tech Healbe GoBe monitoring biometrics including hydration and your caloric bottom line. We’re able to involuntarily engage in more ways.

The trend isn’t limited to those devices attached to our bodies. With our next frontier being The Internet of Things – where virtually all personal gadgets, household appliances and workplace devices are internet-connected — objects most often in our presence are sensing and transmitting data at an equally breakneck pace.

We are barraged by Bluetooth home theater broadcasting audio, iBeacons broadcasting microlocation offers, Nest thermostats detecting our presence and memorizing comfort trends, and more. We’re engaging through more sensory-equipped devices surrounding us in more locations.

The Future of Consumer Behavior Research

Increasingly convenient access to technology, an increasing breadth of devices and an increasing depth of sensory capability all converge into a single direction: technology is progressively attaching itself to human behavior. The more technology evolves, the less we physically and mentally deviate from our standard routine using it to improve our lives. What used to be ten seconds removing the laptop from the shoulder bag has become less than a second flipping the smartphone display toward you.

What used to be a voluntary search for directions when we wanted it has become the delivery of travel information and conditions at the time and place we need them. What used to be lifestyles constructed by consciously logging behavior are becoming lifestyles optimized by detecting behavior through thousands of environmental, subconscious and biometric trends.

Technology isn’t only attaching itself to human behavior, but attaching to the social and environmental elements that are both cause and consequence of it, such as the weather, the traffic ahead of you, what your friends are posting, and your physical and dietary behavior leading up to purchase decisions.

Through these attachments to consumers and their surrounding elements, we can better monitor emotional cues that would otherwise go undetected and resulting consumer choice trends based on consciously unaware conditions that would otherwise go unidentified.

Using Technology to Assess Emotional Cues

Technology is also attaching itself to the physical and neurological causes and consequences of human behavior. Since before the year 2000, neuroscience has rapidly revealed emotion as a fundamental driver of decision making to the point where it can no longer be ignored. Scalable implicit research factoring emotion into consumer choice continues to provide more insightful and scientifically valid market research conclusions.

Validation and case studies featuring neuromarketing and biometrics continue to grow. Worldwide conferences such as the Insight Innovation Exchange (IIeX) series are increasingly devoted to neuromeasures and mobile technology as key differentiators. Factoring physical, subconscious and neurological components into the drivers of consumer choice continues to be proven both scientifically and economically necessary to evolve market research to the next level.

Each new evolution in connected devices provides more intuitive communication with consumers like swiping, voice commands, body movements and biometrics. They are capable of monitoring vigor and intensity, producing data points that aren’t yes/no, but are each a continuum defined by the current emotional and subconscious state. They are increasingly connected to causal and consequential environmental and societal data, producing data that factors in the most subtle components of which consumers are unaware.

The Role of Emerging Technologies in Advanced Market Research

At a time when technology has never been more prevalent in market research data collection, there has never been a better time to mitigate “Garbage In, Garbage Out” failure and make the most sensible conclusions using the least nonsensical data. Feeding into your models complete and accurate data through intuitive, creative experiences has never been more paramount.

If market research is to continue to break barriers in quickly and accurately predicting consumer choice, then our techniques must be fused with those technologies that intimately attach themselves to all the depth and breadth of observable human behavior.

Those who are astute in adopting evolving technologies and all their sensory capabilities will be in position to thrive, armed with larger diamonds of Good Data hidden inside the masses of Big Data.

And tell me who wouldn’t prefer larger diamonds.

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2 responses to “Single Direction Technology is Moving: Why It’s Vital to Consumer Behavior Research

  1. What a great post! Humans have never been shy about their pursuit of tools that create efficiency, decrease physical work, and increase the ability to utilize natural (free) resources. Since the days of Nikola Tesla ( energy has been a holy grail for productivity and communications. Even our bodies are useless without electrical conduction, so it’s not surprising that as more is learned about behavioral sciences, wave devices become more of an extension of our personas.

    Although wireless transmissions are incredibly fast compared to the analog transmissions of the past, they are still about 3 million times slower than a the speed of a human nerve through a body!

    That’s why it’s very difficult to mimic intuitive communication or develop a device that can replace decreased functionality in accident or stroke victims. However, with newer devices it is possible to track response to stimuli in real time. Like most things, a deeper understanding of one aspect of learning creates a whole new set of questions. The real question then becomes “How much information should you can collect and at what point does it cease to add value or simply add confusion?”

    That’s the literal side, but within the real world we know that disparate data streams often provide insights that replace the need to validate every neuron in the brain. Humans are both dynamic and individual so consistency is often unique to our personas, but our reactions are much more predictable if we are able to understand the factors that motivate our behaviors. The acknowledgement of that fact is apparent in many studies and books like “Predictably Irrational” (Dan Airely) and even in our reactions to major events and political discourse.

    Clint makes some great points about technology because its use is often the voice of the “real person” behind the curtain, not the wizard. Statistics has long assumed that our actual behaviors will fall within a defined range based on the captured range of response; but it has never captured the difference between what it is said and actually done or for that matter what we say we want and what we are willing to negotiate away.

    The answers aren’t in the data, they are the data. The inherent danger is in looking too closely rather than taking a step back to see the gaps. The crazy wonderful thing about combining data sources is that the long and winding decision path becomes clearer. For the first time it also shows how short term “smoke and mirror” choices tend to be, and how much impact they leave behind. It also shows the value of transparency and simplifies both pitch and placement for legitimate products as well as identifying gaps that can spawn new products. While much confusion exists now, that’s a short term problem. GIGO will always be present but will increasingly be challenged for its legitimacy, and honestly, it’s just easier to it right the first time. The Emperor is about to get a whole new wardrobe.

  2. This post assumes, of course, that people in the United States will passively accept having their lives, emotions, preferences captured and processed by large private organizations. It also assumes that people will not learn to give false information to these various monitors in order to maintain freedom of action. Perhaps in the short run, but I doubt it in the wrong run. So even if all the marvelous technological change cited in the article actually happens, an iffier proposition than the writer assumes in my view, it is unlikely that any of us will get to use it in the way he imagines for very long. So enjoy this somewhat brave new world while you can, it won’t last.

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Clint Taylor

Clint Taylor

Vice President & Strategic Technologist, Sentient Decision Science Inc