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What Can The CES Tell Us About The Future Of Market Research?

Last week, I spent a few days at the CES event in Vegas. In the first of two blog posts, I’ll share my thoughts about what CES can teach the market research industry.

CES 2013-580-75


By Ari Popper

Last week I spent a few day’s at CES in Vegas. My experience there is best described as a mix between an awestruck Charlie in Willy Wonka’s Technology Factory and a technophile browsing a humungous Best Buy with over 2million square feet of consumer electronics on display. In the first of two blog posts, I’ll share my thoughts about what CES can teach the MR industry.   In the second I’ll share the results of the worlds smartest research robot Eye2d2.

The science fiction Jetson’s like vision of a smart home is now a reality and it is going to open up a whole new world of insights. I was impressed with the smart home technology on display from companies like Lowe’s, Belkin and Whirlpool.   Since the 50’s and 60’s home appliances have been our humble servants catering to our domestic needs but now the big difference is that they are ‘smart’ thanks to tiny sensors and wireless connectivity.  Our appliances can now make suggestions, anticipate our needs and save us time and money. Apart from a few protocol and standards issues that may hinder broader adoption (think VHS and Betamax), surely, it can’t be too long before real time domestic appliance big data is integrated into ethnographic research?  We no longer need to take consumers words for what they do at home, with permission, their appliances will tell us.

Incremental innovation is everywhere, radical innovation is rare but for extreme disruption do the creative mash-up.  Walking around the show, I was struck that there were only a handful of genuinely disruptive innovations on display – 3D printing is a great example.  (To be fair, 3D printing has been around for many years but is in the verge of being affordable for individuals and therefore will create mainstream mayhem.)  However, when you creatively mash-up these ‘smaller’ innovations, you create powerful new paradigms.

One of my favorite items in the show was a 3D printed shell that uses nature’s Fibonacci ratios to amplify sound.  This inventor mashed up 3D printing, biomimicry and our insatiable appetite for iPhone accessories to create the world’s first 3D printed, shell shaped, iPhone amplifier. (It worked amazingly well).  The second example was an idea I had after passing two booths that are both working on energy innovations.  The first harnesses human body heat to recharge batteries.  The second has devised light and flexible solar panels.  Individually they don’t add up to much of a solution (yet).  I am not an engineer but if we combined both and say added kinetic energy as well, wouldn’t we have a viable way to charge our devices as we used them?  The same thinking applies to market research.  For genuinely striking insights, we should creatively mash up tools, techniques and data sources.

Finally, after spending three days surrounded by dizzying technological advancement and innovation, I am more than a little embarrassed by the market research industry’s slow and cautious approach to innovation.  A few exceptions aside, I bet that the majority of the tools and research techniques that are still being used are over 10 years old.  What the MR industry needs is an incentive of sorts, like a Market Research X-Prize.  The X-Prize Foundation donates $1m in prize money for the creation of world changing inventions such as the Star Trek inspired Tricorder (hand held medical diagnostic device)

We badly need an equivalent of a Market Research Apollo Space Program.  Luckily there is now an initiative to help this Market Research Science Fiction become a reality: The Insight Innovation Competition. It’s a start to help prepare MR for a future that is rapidly emerging today.

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14 responses to “What Can The CES Tell Us About The Future Of Market Research?

  1. Here’s the difference between innovation that creates a new iPhone amplifier and a really innovative new marketing research technology. If the former doesn’t work, the user might be out a small amount of money. If the latter doesn’t work, the user might be out millions. This might be why we see fewer dizzying technological advancements in our industry.

  2. Hi Steve, thanks for the comments! Agree that costs are definitely a factor and can be a huge barrier to creating genuinely disruptive research innovations. I think that as technology becomes more powerful, available and scalable, these costs will decline. On the other hand, I cant help but think that we can get a lot better at applying creative thinking over pure financial braun. For example, Predictive Markets – a significant research innovation from BrainJuicer – created a whole new category of research by creatively applying the Wisdom of Crowds. I also strongly believe that smart integration, or creatively mashing up different insight sources can add up to far richer insights. 1+1 =3…much like the 3D printed iPhone amplifier. Take care…Ari.

  3. Steve raises an interesting point. If marketing research innovation doesn’t work, “the user might be out millions.” This is so true.

    Yet, how do mainstreams research tools at driving market growth? I would argue that they, by and large, suck harder than a Dyson. They’re good at incremental growth and maintaining the core. They’re terrible at providing the foresight needed to identify and capitalize on compelling market opportunities.

    As a result, we’ve got management consultancies and design agencies and now even tech companies encroaching on our supposed turf.

    Doing things the same way may seem safe for short-term job security. But if we don’t embrace change — embrace new ways to engage and view customers — we could be on the outside looking-in the very next day.

    The question is what is the greater risk: new marketing research approaches **or** doing things as we have in the past?

  4. Alec – I’m the last one to defend the status quo in marketing research. Most of my career was developing new analytic-based tools. But I think there is a “throw the baby out with the bath water” attitude that is common these days that takes the form of “we need something brand new” rather than “we need something better”. I’m more a something better person, because I can count the number of brand new things that have come along in research over my 30 years on one hand (maybe both hands if I’m being charitable) that have actually worked (split cable ad testing, scanner data, geometric stretch new product models). Not saying ignore new stuff – saying we have a responsibility to our clients/organizations to be grounded in a sound methodology.

  5. Interesting discussion, but are we comparing apples to oranges? Perhaps I’m not undertanding: “iPhone amplifier and a really innovative new marketing research technology. If the former doesn’t work, the user might be out a small amount of money. If the latter doesn’t work, the user might be out millions”. Isn’t this a consumer decision versus an enterprise decision? If I’m investing in technological innovation in any industry, it’s generally going to be a relatively significant bet. I’d suggest that the lack of innovation in the market research industry has more to an academic mindset that doesn’t always welcome technological change. Though I’d say there are a few companies out there doing some cool stuff. Brainjuicer being one of them.

    The other comment I’d pick up on is Ari’s idea of ethnography through machine data. This is already happening to some degree within the Hadoop and hadoop variant eco-system. In fact, I’ll be co-presenting a webinar with Splunk on the topic of Operational Intelligence and this is one of the use cases. Here’s the link if anyone is interested, but I’ll warn that this one is a little techier than most that we do…

  6. @Tony – let me clarify my point. If I buy an iPhone amplifier and it doesn’t work that well, I’m out a couple of hundred bucks or so. If I use a marketing research technique that doesn’t work so well, I’m out millions of dollars. So the MR industry is rightfully slow and cautious because the stakes for our clients are potentially so high.

  7. Hi Steve and Tony, thanks for the comments and the great discussion.

    Firstly Tony – I am really excited to listen to your webinar about how you are leveraging ‘machine data’ into consumer insights.

    Secondly, I have to say I am in agreement here with Tony on the matter of lack of research innovation. I strongly believe that is because the stakes are so high, that we HAVE to experiment and try other approaches. Our caution and conservatism has given the industry a bad name and in my humble opinion, we have lost respect in the Board Room. However, the point you make is Steve is a fair one – if the experiments fail you may have wasted time, money or worse, made the wrong decisions. Risk is by its definition is risky. However, there are ways to mitigate that risk by doing side by side studies and seeking validation.

    Great debate and thanks for the comments!

  8. Ari,

    Really interesting post! I was similarly fascinated by the “ubiquity of connectedness” coming out of last year’s CES ( It’s another example of the tsunami of data that insights professionals could potentially work with in the future.

    I also agree with you about the traditional MR industry: it’s historically been painful to see the way it lags other industries, even within Marketing in general. At the same time, good things are beginning to happen and some great conversations have begun among at least a ‘lunatic fringe’ that seem to be pushing the boundaries of what we consider research. Kudos to Greenbook Blog for fostering that conversation. Bravo, Lenny!

    Time will tell whether the rate of change is fast enough, but I’m with you in pushing for disruptive innovation of our discipline…

  9. Hi Greg,

    Thanks for the post and the link to your cool article.

    It is really exciting to speculate about the potential of “ubiquitous connectivity” for research. I fully agree with your point that this accessibility will move away from fixed devices and soon will be “always on” in the form of an Augmented Reality platform whose potential was so elegantly expressed in this Google Glasses video and, as the visionary Lenny pointed out to me this very morning, by companies like

    We live in fascinating times and like you Greg. I can’t help but get excited at the opportunities that are unfolding.

    Take care,


  10. Inspiring article! Love it!

    Unfortunately (or fortunately) MR will never be a field which pushes the cutting edge, for the same reason that accountancy won’t be either.

    Not because research and innovation are incompatible, but because certain personality types get on well in this industry. We’re weighted towards people who like to weigh up data carefully before they draw a conclusion. That’s a useful skill in research, but it leaves us less room for the spontaneous thinkers, the risk-takers, the creatives who don’t let reality get in the way…

  11. Hi, Ari

    Great discussion…In my view, one must be very careful in deciding what he/she considers “innovation.” If you could ask Steve Jobs what marketing research he did for the iPod, he’d say “none.” The answer would be the same for the Newton. Both products were ahead of their time – though one helped restore him at Apple and, the other, contributed to his initial ousting. My point is that like products, marketing research “innovations” have a place and time. Currently, I think the greater value of the emerging approaches in research is how we can now extract relevant data from newer and rapidly-growing technologies. The analyses of these data should be as rigorous and stable/replicable as they’ve always been. I think that much of what is touted as “innovation” are really just approaches more commonly applied in other non-primary research functions – e.g., unstructured data analytics, wisdom of crowds/algorithmic models – which are now encroaching and disrupting the marketing research industry. With the greater prominence of social media, mobile devices, and the convergence of data sources comprising “Big Data,” these applications are now more relevant, or “innovative,” in the marketing research context. For a database analyst mining data or a stock trader studying charts and performing technical analysis (algorithmic analytics) to evaluate stock price movements, these approaches are status quo. As such, the aforementioned examples were not seen as “newer and better” in the marketing research context prior to the advancement of certain social and technological changes.

    Ultimately, what deems something innovative is context (e.g., iPod vs. Newton). In this vein, as researchers I think it’s our duty to be as rigorous and disciplined in assessing and implementing innovation in the context of our clients’ business problems. These innovations are sometimes on a grand scale but, more often than not, they are incremental – with the business problem viewed through the lens of growing social, demographic, and technological trends.

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