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Technology is Not the Answer to Better Insights

Instead of moving towards passive/reactive listening options, let’s pivot towards a proactive relationship with the public.

futuretech

By Kevin Lonnie

Whether you were happy with the recent election results or you’re currently searching for affordable Canadian housing options, odds are you were surprised with the results.

Well, how did the polls get it so wrong this time? Of course, there is no single factor involved. But a recent Ad Age article went so far as to place part of the blame on voters themselves.

“…part of the shame belonged to Trump voters, many of them unwilling to admit, particularly to live human beings on the other end of the phone, their plans to vote for the president-elect.”

          – Ad Age (Nov. 11, 2016)

When we start blaming the public for our inaccuracies, we have gone off the rails.

Clearly, there is a whole litany of possible solutions and better-integrated solutions than our current reliance on phone polling. As Einstein wrote, the definition of insanity is; “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”

All right, how do we replace/augment our current polling tactics? The general consensus seems to be rallying around better modeling, algorithms and passive listening. In other words, if consumers/voters won’t tell us the truth, we’ll figure it out ourselves.

Emblematic of that trend, IIeX this week is hosting “The Forum on Nonconscious Consumers” in Chicago.

Apparently, since the public is not to be trusted, our only option is to surreptitiously deduce the hidden truth via technology.

I think we’re moving in the wrong direction.

Of course, there’s a place for behavioral economics/neuromarketing/eye tracking/text analytics, but they all stink at answering the fundamental question “why?”

The role of MR is to help companies make better decisions (e.g. launch a product, kill a bad concept, etc.). We only get there by acting as a conduit for the consumer.

And that’s why I feel we should find ourselves more in touch with 21st-century social mores and allow for a more interactive/reciprocal relationship. Did we really ever understand the disgruntled Trump voter’s journey? Did we put them in a position to drive the car and tell us how they arrived at their viewpoint on election day? Will greater reliance on nonconscious technology answer any of those fundamental questions?

If we are to arrive at the right answer, we have to double down on our commitment to the public. We need new techniques that empower the customer, so they can feel comfortable in sharing their viewpoints.

In other words, instead of moving towards passive/reactive listening options, let’s pivot towards a proactive relationship with the public.

Our relationship with the customer should be the epicenter of finding the right answer. Technology remains a means to that end, but by no means is technology the answer in itself.

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7 Responses to “Technology is Not the Answer to Better Insights”

  1. Ellen Woods says:

    November 21st, 2016 at 10:34 am

    Hi Kevin:

    I think you are spot on with these insights.

    Today, many of our decisions are made through peer interaction and often the consensus of information includes many questionable resources. Consumers don’t invest in decisions as they did just a few years ago.

    Heck, we are moving toward shared self-driving car models, urban living in smaller rental spaces and even pooled resources where everything we don’t need daily is shared within a group of friends. In other words, closed end questions don’t tell the story nor does a metric that shows purchase patterns because multiple objectives are met and the purchase actually represents the opinion of more than one person.

    Even if that weren’t true as in suburbia, the influences are often a combination of factors that are based on personal needs rather than features or enhancements. We live in the moment and decisions are made using “hands-on” resources.

    For a researcher, that means looking at external factors that often are far removed from the buying process. For a marketer, it means understanding that experiences far outweigh a promise and that you cannot disconnect a product from the buying climate. For consumers it means a shift from accumulation to experience driven purchases.

    What that means ultimately is that we need to look at a merging of sociological and deep learning using tools like AI, neural netting and machine vision (a more complex version of AI) to understand how influences change under conditional imperatives. That is done with direct interaction, not a fire hose of data collected under assumed prerogatives.

    The new mantra of marketing and research should include the ability to experience products under varied conditions. What we did before was good in a homologous society controlled by outbound marketing, but we can do today is great and should be a win for both marketers and consumers.

  2. Kevin Lonnie says:

    November 21st, 2016 at 2:58 pm

    Ellen,

    Your thoughtful response is always appreciated!

    You do bring up an interesting conundrum. If we are to use customer insights to help our clients make better decisions, we need a more sophisticated understanding of underlying sociological triggers. A very plausible remedy would be to develop increasingly more sophisticated AI solutions.

    Is that implying technology is the answer? Again, I don’t feel technology is the answer in itself, but it does represent the means to the end.

    Fundamentally, I think we need new disruptive approaches to capturing the wisdom of crowds so we can answer that ever elusive “Why?” question. Intelligence, be it derived from artificial or human driven efforts, requires the development of a more collaborative exchange than our current simplistic efforts (e.g. polling, surveys, etc.) allow.

  3. Chris Robinson says:

    November 21st, 2016 at 9:26 pm

    Well I wondered when this was coming. At last someone who challenges the IILEXian view that the answer is all in the technology. When are we going to get our heads around the fact that most new tech is nothing more than either the offline now online under glitzy skins or very limited tools hiding behind a cloak of seemingly technical validity. Is anyone really get breakthrough insights from neuroscience? Seriously how much “why” is answered by facial recognition or EEG? How implicit are so called Implicit Systems? When will MR realize that the whole System 1 & 2 paradigm is starting to unravel? Thanks Kevin for bringing a bit of sanity into this environment.

  4. Kevin Lonnie says:

    November 22nd, 2016 at 10:37 am

    Thanks Chris. I appreciate the feedback.

    It does seem that we’re much more fascinated with the latest shiny tech tool than figuring out a holistic solution to providing better answers. In that vein, I think we’re chasing fool’s gold.

    I will be curious to see if there’s a shift towards customer/participant empowerment over the next few years. If the customer isn’t at the heart of what we provide and they are not “actively” engaged in the solution, then I think we’re just adding tools without any regard to actually building something.

  5. John Holcombe says:

    November 23rd, 2016 at 10:52 am

    Unfortunately, Lonnie, many in the industry treat their customers like a “basket of deplorables.” What they say and do can’t be trusted. They are complicated as hell and chock full of contradictions. They are emotional and unpredictable. They almost wish they weren’t customers!

    The stated holy grail of the tech-enamored research industry is to eliminate customers entirely from the work: “The ability to define the neurological processes, the lowest level of an individual’s response, to marketing concepts is a holy grail for us. If we can map the process to the response, we get away from asking people questions and all the uncertainty, all the biases, and all the controversy in our scientific endeavors.” That quote is from a nearby post on the problems with neuroscience.

    If we can’t empathetically understand our customers, we can’t ever hope to make better decisions. The problem is, many MR companies and their clients don’t really want to rub shoulders with their actual customers.

  6. Terence McCarron says:

    December 1st, 2016 at 9:49 am

    This was a superb discussion! Thanks for the thoughts Kevin and all commenters. I’ve always believed our industry is a people-business first. Tech can be a valuable part of the engagement with consumers, but leveraging tech at the sacrifice of the actual humanity presents risk.

  7. Kevin Lonnie says:

    December 5th, 2016 at 2:12 pm

    Hi Chris & Terrence,

    Thank you both so much for the great feedback!

    To be candid, I think the business model for many firms entering the MR industry is primarily based on tech and scalability. And I don’t blame those firms for wanting to be successful.

    I do feel when all our resources are focused on addressing the “what’s”, we are doing ourselves a disservice when we can no longer answer the “why’s”.

    But I expect there will be business opportunities in using tech to uncover new and proactive forms of engagement with customers. If we’re unwilling to engage in candid and transparent interaction with participants, we become increasingly reliant on passive data collection.

    To me, that’s simply dumbing things down to the point where our field becomes irrelevant.
    .

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