Our new GreenBook Directory site is live!
Your #1 strategic guide to consumer insights.
Qualtrics X4 The Experience Mgmt Summit
Brand & Retailer tickets for all IIeX events now start at just $99! Get or give one today!

Snapshot Of The Future: Under The Radar Reveals Accelerated Disruption Of MR

Brian Singh is an astute observer of the trends impacting MR, and a player in pushing the boundaries of the future from his perch in Canada. That is why when he asked me if he could go on “special assignment” to the “Under The Radar” event last month in San Francisco I readily agreed.


Editor’s Note: Brian Singh is an astute observer of the trends impacting MR, and a player in pushing the boundaries of the future from his perch in Canada. That is why when he asked me if he could go on “special assignment” to the “Under The Radar” event last month in San Francisco I readily agreed; his unique perspective would help give our readers a glimpse into what is happening in the world of emerging start-ups & technology that are poised to continue the transformation process in our industry.  Today is the first of series of posts on what Brian took away from this event and his thoughts on the implications for the insights sector.

insight-innovation-competition_400_TransBrian is on the Board of Advisors of the Insight Innovation Exchange and Insight Innovation Competition, which will function as MR’s own “Under The Radar” event series in 2013. With the help of Brian and many others on the team, we’ll be working to help bring disruptive innovators, clients, investors, and established providers together to help work together to chart the future of the industry.  Keep an eye out for more news on the IIeX event series; you don’t want to get caught unprepared by what else may be flying under the radar that is going to change the world in the future.

By Brian Singh

Under the Radar ( is an annual conference hosted by Dealmaker Media every November in San Francisco (recently moved after years in the Silicon Valley). The event positions itself as “Tracking early stage innovation.” Alumni (former presenters) include admob, Box, LinkedIn, Marketo and WuFoo (See here for a larger listing: This year’s theme was “Mobile + Social Commerce.”

Being close to 50, I grew up in the tail end of the Cold war. One of the vestiges of this era was the Doomsday Clock which was set closer to midnight based on the threat of nuclear war or some form of global devastation. In many regards, the marketing research industry is facing its own Doomsday Clock – it is now “on the brink of,” but always under threat; it just needed new platforms to be fully disrupted.

Since 2010, I have reduced the number of research-related conferences I attend in favor of venture capital and new technology/start-up conferences. What I have noted over these three years is that marketing research conferences are grappling with the advent of new technologies and the incorporation of other disciplines, while the venture capital/start-up conferences ARE DOING all of what the marketing research conferences are discussing and more. It is sobering.

About a month ago, thanks to Dealmaker Media, I attended “Under the Radar” conference in San Francisco for the first time. This annual two day event’s focus is on curating early stage innovation amongst start-ups (primarily in North America). It is an excellent barometer of the state of where technology is headed over the next three to five years. This year’s program included sessions on location intelligence, analytics, monetization and advertising, shopping, marketing and the emerging “mobile wallet.”  In subsequent articles, we will summarize some of these sessions we attended. At this point, we will look at some of themes that arose, as they pertain to the marketing research industry, and some of the threats that we collectively face from these emerging entities.

First, a global observation. It was evident across all sessions is that there is a greater attention to all mobile technologies and tablet applications. Very little is being discussed as to the web. All emerging platforms were focused on these two specific platforms: how they are incorporated into our day-to-day lives, enable business and disrupt traditional market spaces – and especially the intelligence sector.

Emerging themes over the conference:

  • Research Under the Hood: Every platform and every software service had a measurement/research component. This included information-rich dashboards and reporting that provided great insight into consumers/industry use of their service. It is evident that every commerce/marketing app or service developed now has data analysis at its core. This includes simple partitions of demographic data to usage patterns to more sophisticated elements such as qualitative (including heat mapping of touch of tablet surfaces to embedded text analytics). Emerging platforms view research as a value-added service and offer to businesses and industry a built-in vertical research agency.
  • Behavioral Analysis: What is becoming common knowledge in the marketing research business is now common place in all emerging platforms. The thinking is why do any research when you can follow actual behavior? Every presenter at Under the Radar highlighted all of the behavioral characteristics that can be tracked within their new platform. This includes the ability to track users through an entire transaction including the location of the different phases to many having A/B testing built in, to assess which types of campaigns and interactions yield the best possible response.
  • Remixes and Mash-Ups: Platforms are now seeking to build richer datasets for the sake of analysis and deeper insights. One interesting trend is the ability to connect financial institutions to customer transactions to media (that are presenting new products and services to consumers to consider purchase). Unique partnerships are emerging with media where platforms can develop coded information that can be captured via a mobile device and simplify the transaction. Further, we are seeing greater layering of information where multiple datasets are being aggregated into common frames – may it be by location, by consumer type or by purchase behavior. These mash-ups are seeking to enter into areas where traditional market research has traditionally not been a strong player. Specifically, the ability to link inventory all the way through to customer behavior and dialogue. We are seeing the capturing of SKU information being coded directly to customer transactions and tying it to associated behaviors so as to be connected to predictive analytics (further discussion below).
  • Disintermediation: While this remains a hot topic in our industry, many of these platforms are seeking to eliminate the middle man. In many cases, a number of these middle men are those involved in the collection and analysis of data (as per the delivery of reporting dashboards to provide insights) to processing entities that have traditionally halted speedy transactions. This latter point was prevalent in the mobile wallet discussion, where all presenters identified ways to “reduce friction” in transactions by connecting a consumer’s credit card closer to the point of transaction to eliminate undue processing, time and cost. From a marketing research perspective, many of these approaches to disintermediation are grounded in LEAN production processes, where these companies are finding approaches to eliminate intervening agents to allow data gathering directly via employees or from consumers for easy analysis through a simple reporting dashboard that allows easy drilling down to more complex forms of analysis.
  • Customization: One-on-one marketing and relationship building is now at the core of most emerging platforms. The ability for platforms to tailor messaging and offers continues to improve. This is being done via the development of more sophisticated algorithms. What may have taken many months of work to refine a strategy through traditional market research to tailor to customer segments, is now being done on an individual basis with a target threshold of 100 milliseconds. In the analytics module, real-time prediction is now a reality and part of the consideration set of many online commerce sites. Most businesses who are considering the implementation of such platforms, are seeking ways to facilitate transactions as easily as possible via in-store offers based on a browser’s previous behavior and also in terms of what they browsing in a store or online at the time.
  • Content: Based on the previous five points, all platforms are identifying opportunities and refinements to realize alignment of all forms of engagement via customization. With a goal to do better one-on-one targeting, most view this as the refinement and customization of content to optimize marketing programs to be more relevant to specific individuals and customer segments. From a marketing research perspective, tying this in with behavioral type analyses, content marketing now is being driven and drives data analysis and the marketing loop. Further, the aggregation of content from social media and customer review sites provides a rich resource of incremental information which is enabling trust networks that in turn have been able to support speedier transactions and better…
  • Return On Investment: Many a time, researchers and marketers, up until even two to three years ago, were asked about the return on investment on our work. Now, every platform which has a transaction element is now connected with research components. Thus, return on investment can be determined much more readily on very specific elements of any type of engagement initiative. But it now goes further. We are starting to see greater alignment of return of investment measurement with other parts of the operation. Tying in with the different phases of a purchase cycle, consumer behaviour can now be quantified and valued through every phase of the process and can be linked back to other areas of the operations such as inventory and production. Using research is helping to optimize the entire supply chain like never before. With this level of quantification, emerging platforms are firmly considering themselves as a utility (SaaS – software as a service), where some are positioning themselves as a pay for performance platform (given that these are cloud-based services and the terms of use, they can monitor how well their platform is working for a specific business). This is an area where few traditional research agencies can compete.
  • Creep Factor: Over the last five years, we have started to see aspects of the movie Minority Report infiltrating the marketing and intelligence gathering space. At this year’s Under the Radar, we observed an even higher level of invasiveness into consumers’ lives. In signing up for some of these services, consumers are incentivized to perform certain tasks or get certain rewards and they are surrendering more personal information. Many of these platforms are seeking ways and means to increase businesses willingness to give away certain services with the goal to obtain more data from consumers. Some of the technology that were presented relied heavily on the ability to track consumers through multiple locations over time and usage patterns on their devices, to continually develop richer insights into specific behaviors that can be leveraged for commerce-driven opportunities. One thing that will become a business norm is geofencing – i.e., the ability for a business to build an electronic barrier so as to contain their data collection from customers within their “bricks and mortar” store (and subsequent relationships with other online activities related to their ecommerce site). This is an area where the market research industry has rightfully been very cautious (as many of us have emerged from areas of research where we had to abide by human subjects protocols) but these start-ups have not considered but are willing to work under the guise of terms of use and a simple “agree” statement to grab data to develop richer data sets typically beyond the realm of what the platform is specifically designed to deliver on. This will likely become a dialogue driven by government regulators.

With all emerging platforms now conducting research as a core element and the insights being a differentiator, the marketing research business will now face even more challenges. It is now imperative for firms to find ways to deliver value. We can seek inspiration from industries that have taken a tremendous hit with the advent of the internet, to get some inspiration on how to augment these emerging platforms, but also how to interpret them on how to deliver new insights and services. For example, the travel industry was severely hit with the online revolution and consumers having direct access to the Global Distribution Network, but what we saw was emerging was better packaging, more boutique firms, new applications (TripIt, hipmunk and found experiences such as Airbnb).

This is the first of a series of articles on the sessions from Under the Radar, held on November 16, 2012 in San Francisco. Subsequent articles will highlight emerging platforms presented at selected sessions.

Please share...

3 responses to “Snapshot Of The Future: Under The Radar Reveals Accelerated Disruption Of MR

  1. It all sounds like we need to start referring to people more as “behavioural agents” rather than people or even consumers. Much described, IMHO, sounds more like marketing automation than insight and the realm of market “research”. It is ironic that at the same time as the key role of emotion in human decision making is recognised, the rational behavioural analytics juggernaut is approaching.

  2. Well gee, Lenny – it turns out the Mayans were wrong. The world did not come to end in 2012 and I’m pretty sure our industry won’t come to an end any time soon either. I’m also willing to bet that nobody had “information-rich dashboards”, although they may well have had very pretty dashboards with lots of numbers. While one might be able to collect a lot of behavioral data, the likelihood of having true “single source” data and the ability to analyze it are near zero today. Mobile people are very full of themselves in thinking that everything goes through their mobile device. Look at television viewing patterns – this just isn’t true (Joel Rubinson has done some nifty analysis on this). Richer datasets are no guarantee of deeper insights – it’s not even clear they enable deeper insights. Mistaking customization for engagement is never a good idea.

    All-in-all, not so sobering. The pace of people talking about disruption and disintermediation is probably increasing, but that doesn’t make it so.

Join the conversation