The Future is Now

The Insights Association’s third annual NEXT Conference was a quick trip into the near future of what CEO David Almy referred to as the “golden age of insights”, reminiscent remotely of Remesh at another conference in November 2016 declaring the dawn of the “golden age of qualitative research” with the potency of AI powered qualitative tools breaking new “utopias” in consumer understanding. The challenge today, pointed out Mr. Almy, in this age of data-abundance and tech-deluge, is that the uses and benefits of tools are not widely understood and people increasingly must or will rely on human expertise and judgement to advance. So, what does all this mean for “insights” or “insights leadership”? There is no escaping the data from the insights and vice-versa. What’s worrisome is the lack of protections in a hyper-digital world. Working towards a national data privacy law (IA is a founding member of Privacy for America, a coalition at the forefront of efforts in Washington) is among the things keeping Almy busy in boardroom discussions these days along with the newest edition of IA’s Code of Standards & Ethics.

Terrae Schroeder of Kellogs and Kristi Zuhlke of Knowledge Hound, co-chairs of the NEXT2019 conference asked us to learn from the technologies and trends that will change/disrupt the way we are doing business today. The conference program was dominated by Voice, AI, CX, UX and the use of video in leveraging truer, context-rich insights. Technology was enhancing the way we did research, obviously a critical component of the research stack. Stay tuned for a dedicated blog on 5G, but for now, please immerse in the following visualizations/visuals from the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) presentation. The conference’s major-themed sessions and takeaways are described in this blog post, whereas others will inspire dedicated topics in future blog posts.

The conference program left no gaps in trend-spotting, but including the world of genomics would have offered an additional futuristic ring with its intersection of disciplines – an important lens to look through/understand our consumers’ proclivities and behaviours. Our DNA structures make us more resilient to some conditions or ailments than others and anyone in possession of this data is in possession of our future.

Lesley Rohrbaugh, Director of Market Research, Consumer Technology Association (CTA), then unveiled tech trends from the latest Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. She noted that this year’s show was especially fully-focussed on AI – both true and spurious. It is important to thus note the distinction between real AI and fake AI, by understanding the difference between intelligent devices (true AI) vs. smart devices (not AI) she said.

An insights leader in passing mentioned to me that although the Consumer Electronic Show’s trends in tech presentation were impressive, there was little talk at the conference about the ethical implications of all this AI competition on steroids and said they hoped to hear more recommendations on managing the dark side of AI. It can be acknowledged that the abundance of data privacy-breaches and AI-going-wrong cases do lend themselves to ongoing debate, caution and scrutiny. I also recommend individual brands release mini-documentaries on social media to educate on tech privacy AI crimes and safety measures as it pertains to their consumer cohorts and communities to move these discussions further.

Artificial Intelligence Will Get Better

Public opinion reveals optimism and positive reception towards AI. A lot seems to be happening in an internet minute (see visual), powering machine learning and the deep neural nets. 90% of all the data we have today was created in the last two years, shared Eric Solomon, CMO, Blackbird Global in his talk Influence in a Machine Age.

You can chart innovation against the axes of visibility or expectations over time, said Solomon. For all tech, he indicated, there’s an innovation trigger – potential tech breaks through and things kick off. Then, the hype takes over. Some success stories, lots of failure. Then, interest wanes as experiments flop or fail to deliver. Some continue to thrive. Solomon brought attention to the eureka moments in the innovation journey, plotting on J curves:

Slope of Enlightenment: More instances of how the technology can benefit the enterprise start to crystallize and become more widely understood. Second- and third-generation products appear from technology providers. More enterprises fund pilots; conservative companies remain cautious.

Plateau of Productivity: Mainstream adoption starts to take off. Criteria for assessing provider viability are more clearly defined. The technology’s broad market applicability and relevance are clearly paying off.

We have moved from being mobile first to AI first as businesses and technologies.

Solomon posed the chicken or the egg question of machine versus human (intelligence)? He talked about the making and rise of super-intelligence and how machine-human collaboration is not just imminent but also destiny and such collaboration is crucial to the success and advancement of research and humanity as we manage all our J curves (as industries) – with every strategic investment decision in tech and research.

Is Frankenstein the work of fiction alone or highly conspired prescience? Eric Solomon poses many questions from AI to SI.

Consumers are excited about robotics and anticipate a world with all kinds of robots. Robots serve a number of purposes from CX elevation (robot hospitality) to even companionship. There is a robot for nearly every task from breadbot (makes bread) to foldmate (folds laundry) to segway loomo. And there are intelligence-filled resilient technologies that help with mass-scale disaster relief.

Robots are holding the fort with specific tasks as they seep into social relevance with growing machine-human collaboration/intelligence cross-functionality. Social robots include Blue Frog’s Buddy, Ubtech’s Walker, Pillo. What was the last social robot you heard about or encountered and how would you rate your comfort level (fluency) with it?

Retail technology investments are creating experiences that outweigh online convenience – they go beyond. Functions include, Wayfinding, AR mirrors, inventory robots, in-store pickup, self-order kiosks, associate iPads, sales associate robots, endless aisle and others, shared Solomon.

XR / VR/ MR/ AR – Growing New Dimensions of User Experience

The range of technologies and products from growing new realities spells big opportunities for most brands as human-machine intelligence takes new strides. XR includes Virtual Reality/ Mixed Reality / Augmented Reality and even Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence, as we create more machine-human interfaces and engines. In a world of over 1 billion AR enabled mobile devices, it would be remiss to not use AR research methods to reach more audiences. Dan Ferguson, Co-founder of Groove Jones showcased how he used Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality to improve fan engagement. By 2020 (next year), nearly half (46%) of all retailers plan to deploy either AR or VR solutions to meet customer service experience requirements, according to a Gartner study. Moreover 70% of all Snapchat 186 million activate AR filters daily – this number is 15 billion to date (Snapchat Developer Conference May 2019). Ferguson shared that Pepsi consistently used AR in their campaigns like in 2017 in Canada when they created over two dozen AR filters that were printed on Pepsi bottles using Snapcodes for a summer campaign. In 2018, Macy’s launched a virtual reality based experience in three stores to demonstrate what furniture would look like in your home in the US, and found an immediate uplift in furniture sales.

Macy’s 2018 in-store VR experience launched in three stores

Video Rich Insights Give a Fuller Picture

By next year i.e. 2020, online videos will make up more than 80% of all consumer internet traffic (Cisco)! Video provides 6X more information than an equivalent open-end text response (Living Lens). Close to half of all people watch videos for at least an hour a day (Hubspot). Viewers retain 95% of a message when they watch it in video (Wirebuzz). And look at the corporate impact: 60% of all senior executives and CEOs would choose to watch a video. All of these stats were pulled from a slide by Living Lens and Hall & Partners.

Now, what happens, when we use video to elicit richer insights? And is it equally beneficial for qual and quant projects? In a talk about using video Life’s Messy, Don’t Clean it Up, Pepsico and Big Sofa worked together to use video-based technologies to understand the kitchen habits of consumers in four markets: India, Mexico, UK and USA. They used mobile diaries and hours of video data to analyze kitchen behaviours across households in these markets.

Think differently about video – its multifaceted texture and purpose extends to using videos to observe potential opportunity, analyze device usage, and redefining data in shopper studies. Video’s ability to combine visual and verbal cues and showcase a range of simultaneous behaviours and non-behaviours can paint a fuller picture of your consumers – and this is why clients and retailers seem to love videos especially as they pour the “unfiltered voice of consumers”.

Growing Your Share of Voice Tech

One in five Google searches is made by voice, we all know. A strong voice strategy will fuel better business decisions. One should then strive to be the best-friend voice-in-the-head for all our respondents and consumers.

Frank Kelly, Global Head of Products, Ipsos Operations, seemed to think so, when he talked about introducing voice conversations in quantitative research. Kelly talked about how moving away from traditional surveys didn’t mean just transposing the online survey to chatbots but actually understanding the new medium/media and generating conversations and community through untraditional voice/ audio / video / chatbot surveys. The use of voice is on the rise, and is best recommended for when respondents are engaged in other activities, and ideally in a quiet place. Voice is more suited for those who prefer to talk than type and is not suitable for long or complex surveys, but rather most optimal for using in repetitive diaries (where the user learns the requirements quickly and is able to provide more information after getting familiar with the survey) or short customer satisfaction surveys, he said. Even in short surveys, engagement is the key trigger to actual completions. People may engage in brief interactive voice activities (eg. play music, recipe, translate word), but we don’t know if they will engage longer. Implementation of voice is very different from an online survey, but voice assistant and chatbot tech are similar. It can be relatively low cost to capture a few quick closed-end questions. The best use case of voice in market research is with in-context, hands-free interaction. Other contexts could include: while cooking, in a car or even product testing.

Customer Experience is Everything

Customer Experience or CX  is a weird combination of the head and heart, began Jeannie Walters, CEO, Experience Investigators. There is a lot of cognitive dissonance (we say one thing, do another) and we have to be aware of our own limitations.  Values are deeply held beliefs tied to emotions that power memory structures. It takes twelve positive experiences to overcome a negative one, she said. Part of the reason why CX is so challenging is that the brain is constantly seeking negative stimulus. Give everyone you pass by a mental compliment, as an exercise in CX, and see how long it endures, she challenged.

Expectation setting creates better customer experience. CX means growth. Perception and feeling are all what CX is about: awareness, consideration, selection. Comparison shopping. CX is both a sprint and marathon, you do it for the short term and the long term.

Journey mapping has become robust with the ability to quantify quality and measure emotional peaks and valleys. Understanding moments that matter and the surrounding context is key to better CX. Service blueprinting is another way to understand the backstage and behind-the-scenes for the organizational structure.

Patient stories of being acknowledged at length is among the most revelatory of the level of need for good CX. An example of a service blueprint is pictured below to reflect Acme’s customer service call journey / service blueprint.

In the end, CX is all about delivering personalized individual experiences. Mission drives experience. Nike’s mission is to make everyone an athlete. Ritz Carlton is all about ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen. The Hertz and Clear partnership was cited as another example of perfect CX symbiosis where time saved was dollars gained; Amazon keys was also cited for its personalized efficiency with CX (video below).

Makers Mark offer a highly unique experience of bourbon, by carving your name on their barrels and allowing them to age. The biggest enemy of CX can often be tradition (“it has always been done this way!”).

Walters left us with the following mission, the one that makes her company unique from the rest:

To read more of Jeannie Walters’ thoughts about disruption, automation and leadership in CX, visit Coffee Break and CX Bytes.

Below Xaffery Jefferson of Dapresy shared use cases of CX in the marketplace showcasing the importance of asking the right questions. The future of CX according to him is in gamification, CX based CRMs, and in leveraging better (more real-time) consumer understanding at scale and with the right partnerships.

Innovating with Storytelling and Design

Brianna Sylver led two workshops that expounded on the mechanics and art of telling compelling stories for all audiences and stakeholders. Sometimes brevity scores, other times the depth of the framework, fleshing out context. She talked about setting the right intention and strategy with communication, and asked everyone to think of one word we wanted to walk out with (“structure”, “inspiration”, “rigour” and “clarity” were some). Sylver recommended reading Simon Sinek’s book Start With Why. Most people start with the what and move to the why, but starting out with the endgame in mind is a more effective way to engage your audience, said Sylver.

Sylver outlined the 4 Cs that are critical to effective communication: connection (building empathy through community), communication (knowing your audience and creating tangible messaging), consistency (being regular), and call to action (leaving people with singularity of action rather than a bunch of choices). How to craft a CTA = Task + Ask! For example: secure funds for further discovery, authorize a pilot, etc.

Below Sylver shows us how she used innovation storytelling to generate funds and momentum (petition signatures, referral links, app downloads) for developing FLOODCON, a flood forecasting app that works like a typical weather app, yet forecasts flood conditions and the expected severity of each, also integrating local, sensor data at the city street level, so that during flooding, it supports residents to know where it’s safe to drive vs. not for the City of Charleston.

Lastly, telling your innovation story has strategic and tangible benefits like solidifying your focus, clarity, messaging, connection and calls to action. Your audience starts looking at your brand as a carefully conceived being they identify with, are impacted by or care about, and a simple story can be empowering for both your brand and its consumers.

Brand storytelling also depends a lot on design be it through strong visuals or powerful packaging according to design experts Jessica Gaedeke, Chief Revenue Officer and Hilary Rekrut, Senior Vice President, of Designalytics. Package design is a common denominator across all elements of customer experience. What visual aspects should brands showcase? Ankle biters are the small manufacturers who are able to leverage design as the weapon of their choice and constantly disrupt the way you do business with their innovation-first design mindset. Having a constant stream of market intelligence helps your firm with better decision-making. These days all customers expect information to be highly curated, so paying heed to that level of personalization helps.

The panel The Elephant in the Brand from Designalytics included Jessica Gaedeke, Chief Revenue Officer and Hilary Rekrut, Senior Vice President, Analytics. They talked about the importance of design in disruptive technologies. How can you leverage design for change? Be the brand that can be recognized from afar. Being recognizable means there’s something distinctive and memorable about you. Why do some brands go the (design) distance? Consumer recall happens when there are stronger memory structures. Think about Axe vs Old spice or Smirnoff vs Stolichnaya (Stoli). The presenters used the reboot of Sam Adams (beer brand) as an example of how to score and manage the distinctive asset of your brands. Design is an asset, redesign can be a perfect opportunity to catalyze your growth. Are you communicating the right messages through your brand’s design? When and what to redesign, if? Objective metrics are important, so research on ad and design testing is here to stay.

Be recognizable from afar.

Hanging Out with the Lunch Ladies: Tapping Back of House Ethnography to Develop Foodservice Insights and Innovation was another presentation by Cargill and 20/20 Research (images of Carole Schmidt, Vice President Research, below) about engaging members of cross-functional teams to work together to deliver nutrition (healthy lunches) into the mouths of school children. The school lunch service system serves around 1000 meals in 30 minutes, which is higher than Tacobell or a Wendy’s by volume in lunch food services. The research challenge was how to get the kids to eat what the lunch ladies served, and how to gain trust as a (the ultimate) food supplier. They used observational research, immersive in-depth interviews, and back of house ethnographies to serve their clients. Their talk also emphasized keeping the endgame in mind when starting out, a consistent tenet in qualitative research. Their journey from food service insights to innovation was the product of teamwork and ajudged a success on the following counts: incremental sales, incremental profit growth, gaining new K12 school district customers, strengthening awareness of Cargill as a partner, tapping into existing production facilities, delivering potential for a higher hit rate causing them to know their customer and consumer better.

The moving parts of a team: “Facilitation is critical! Diverge as a team to converge, Pictures pictures picture, keep it simple and keep it moving,” – Cargill and 20/20 Research
Moving from the Why to the What was a challenge well met and led them to build new district and industry relationships, concepts/products and collateral materials.

Advertising Effectiveness in a Distracted World

Lucy Davison, CEO and Founder of Keen as Mustard, presented an interactive murder mystery thriller that got the audience to solve the mystery of – who killed advertising effectiveness? With fancy profiles of neat and hilariously cliched character-suspects reminiscent of CLUEDO games, the puzzle wasn’t just audience-led but also audience-created.

The suspects were eight nifty caricatures depicted below, all with very fun character descriptions. It was all very much a diagnostic quiz: What kind of (ad sales) murderer are YOU?

For those who love to blame globalization for capitalism’s endless casualties, Global Gary was of course solely responsible for (or even masterminding) declining ad effectiveness. The crowdsourced culprit – gladly blamed for plotting the age of distraction, screen-infidelity, riding on some high tide of caffeinated time-zonelessness, butcher of local context, conquerer, empire-builder, and for everything that was upsetting local economies, particularly among those who prided on self-perceptions of pristine purity and nativism. The murder was a modern portrayal and satire of global consumption, fragmented audiences, zero-dollar budgets, silos and contexts, “creative” differences, polarized age-and experience-cohorts, narrated like a fairy tale.

Competitive Streak

Kristi Zuhlke, CEO of Knowledge Hound, goads the audience to “stop being weirdos” and to network!

End to end solutions continue to push their way into the market and into conference exhibitions, even as the demand for “bits” and “pieces” selective service prevail as non-enterprise firms push new frontiers. Sight X (full-service research solutions), Hub UX (full-service project management solutions) and Neurable (neuroscience backed analytics / brain-computer interface) were just three such competitor start-ups. In an age of aggregators and DIY platforms, it is hard to stand out, and intuitive design and compelling storytelling is able to swing the audience over in the short term. Where will these firms be five years from now? Where will YOU be?

Dandelion tea in Chicago’s prairies and other wet weeds

Forget “Blockchain”, Call it… Privacy, Transparency, Something Else

Blockchain creates a mental block for even the most articulate and lofty of intellectuals in passing conversation we all know. How do you explain this to a lay audience or even one exposed to the muffled jargon associated with it? What does it do and why is it important? Why do we need to know more about it? (Hint: Paul Neto, Chief Marketing Officer and Co-founder of Measure Protocol later said in his talk that we don’t need to know so much about it as long as we know how it can benefit us and our respondents). Blockchain, as InnovateMR and Global Research Business Network’s (GRBN) studies reveal, has a branding problem. It is often confused with bitcoin and clubbed as a fad category in audience minds. People/consumers like their privacy and want to protect it on the blockchain and are willing to participate in the blockchain even if they don’t know what it means fully, so long as they are compensated and their privacy is protected.

A couple of presentations on online fraud and declining sample quality, had set the tone for blockchain in market research, calling for stricter measures to combat privacy and data breaches and improve standards in data collection and quality, panel health, etc. The Insights Revolution: Questioning Everything book by Andrew Grenville, Chief Research Officer of MARU/Matchbox, did mention all these problems of online fraud before, so it was good to get a sense of the current state of data and sample quality and frequency of online fraud (not so good). In fact, it is also worth repeating Grenville’s three tenets of his own book very much in sync with the content of this conference, calling for drastic change in marketing research:

  • 1) Stop taking orders and start taking action (insights he hints is moving into a leadership role than a mere support function)
  • 2) Stop analyzing in isolation and think outside of the traditional survey and lastly,
  • 3) Ask people questions they want to answer and actually can on any device at their convenience, etc.

Data is currency but in market research, it has higher interest rates, suggested Peter Milla, Principal of Peter Milla Consulting. Market Research online fraud is on the rise globally, led by Egypt, Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, Puerto Rico – all regions of 10X MR fraud, followed by Germany (6X) and Mexico (6X), said Milla. Turns out, the cost of global fraud is expected to reach 6 trillion US dollars by 2021, according to a recent Forbes study; setting that context, Lisa Wilding-Brown, Chief Research Officer of InnovateMR and Andrew Cannon, Executive Director of the Global Research Business Network, presented their collective study’s findings on trust in market research (which is at 27% worldwide — below mobile phone operators) and perceptions and awareness of blockchain.

Only 62% of their respondents selected the right definition of blockchain (understood what it meant). Most participants value panel quality in a webinar of n=150. Researchers are more willing to pay for quality samples than you would guess suggesting a higher pricing tolerance in over half the population. More than half were willing to participate in a blockchain based panel. These data from the core of discussions around growing back trust in market research using blockchain.

Blockchain is a system in which lots of transactions are recorded, Wilding-Brown said it’s like the “notary of the internet” but a public ledger that allows us to see reputable copies of information on a peer-to-peer network. Their study aimed to understand perceptions of blockchain and to understand whether its use would improve trust, participation and engagement in MR. There were similarities and differences between online and offline samples. Studies were fielded in late March 2019. 53% are having discussions around privacy. Awareness was higher for cryptocurrency than for blockchain even if the majority are unfamiliar with blockchain. But over 50% of respondents would be willing to participate or join an MR blockchain panel. The top valued attribute in blockchain were around respondents’ perceptions of security, which spells optimism even if the knowledge levels might not seem aligned.

Paul Neto, CMO and Co-founder of Measure Protocol, a blockchain powered marketplace for person-based data, talked about blockchain’s applications in Market Research. Having just concluded a pilot study with eight partner companies on the marketplace through the MSR app (currently only mobile iOs compatible), Neto was able to share that respondents don’t really care about what blockchain means so much or that it exists even, as that their data is protected and anonymity secured. Blockchain is in fact a slow, expensive shared database that nobody owns and can’t be easily modified, it is known for its ability to build trust, which as we know is low in MR.

The benefits of using blockchain include: data sovereignty, transparency, you remove fraudsters, remove fraudsters early, increase accuracy of your solution, reduce costs of fixing issues that arise from bad data. Data quality is multi-dimensional and relies on real time updates. A blockchain powered marketplace builds an ecosystem of trust in a time when the outlook on sampling is gloomy where 4 in 10 say sample quality is going to get worse!

Never put consumer data on the blockchain, look at it just for transactional data, cautions Neto. Respondents don’t care about what you use, or about blockchain itself, and they need not. What they do care about is their respondent experience and the benefits of participation. So elevating the experience around privacy and respondent experience is key. Privacy, data sovereignty, transparency and accountability are important to consumers. The willingness of market research suppliers to connect to data sources that are untapped as opposed to new data sources is important; the typical user participates in 13 data tasks. How to address privacy with the blockchain? Data minimalism (collect the least data possible) and by limiting data liability. Results from Measure Protocol’s survey reveals that:

  • 77% would share more data if they felt organizations were being more transparent about how they are using their data
  • 44% responded quickly (within 15 minutes) to notifications, liking the mobile environment and end-to-end experience
  • 78% were willing to share passive behavioural data sources, showing they felt protected and comfortable with the interface and level of transparency
  • 83% felt their privacy was protected while using the app
  • 81% felt compensation during the pilot was better than similar services, showing that this is a key part of the user experience and foundation for engagement” (Measure Protocol Newsletter, June 2019)

What does a good survey provider look like? It incentivizes good behaviour. For respondents on the MSR app, incentives could be cashed out or availed of as e-gift cards. Respondents can see everything on the blockchain. With the MSR Pilot study launch there was not only a 92% completion rate but 83% reported feeling that their privacy was protected on the blockchain. Mobile notifications, real time ratings and feedback on every data job allows you to scale a certain “data hygiene” for the industry.

The benefits of blockchain in market research include achieving new levels of: data sovereignty, privacy, transparency, UX, fairness (fair experience), data quality. Brands are using blockchain to build their integrity, provide transparency in the supply chain and eliminate online fraud and issues arising from bad data, fixing issues arising from bad data costs a fraction of what it would outside the blockchain. The opportunity for blockchain in market research is immense, because as Neto shared, no other industry understands consumers with the methodological rigour we put to test. Blockchain in MR is a reality and improves consumer engagement (making consumers the #1 stakeholder) and safeguards privacy. Blockchain in MR applications is device based, as “browsers are easy to fool but devices are not”, and that’s why in order to participate in the MSR survey on the blockchain you had to download the app on your iOS enabled mobile device. I think the best way to understand blockchain is to keep going to more of the sources you trust based on your use-case/industry. Neto warned everyone against reading up Wikipedia and Medium articles to decipher what blockchain was or what to do with it. Rather, speak to the sources you trust in how it (blockchain) applies to you and your business.

The Insights Association’s NEXT 2019 Conference adjourned on a high note outlining the immense possibilities ahead for buyers, sellers, partners and investors of research. Tools might be meant for “fools”, but we can choose to be more than foolish as we wander the vast wonderlands of service tech, machine-integrity and humanity 2.0 with better insights and truer purpose.

Big thank you to our readers and supporters, and especially the Insights Association, Hotspex Inc. and Fuse Insights for making this trip possible for


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