“The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed,” the science-fiction author William Gibson once quipped. Had he wanted to see the market research future of today, and find some creative opportunities for employment for science-fiction writers in the process, he would have been in Atlanta last week for the IIeX conference (Insights in Innovation Exchange, North America).
Within a year, IIeX has emerged as a global research-conference brand. A joint venture of GreenBook and Gen 2 Advisors, the first IIeX conference was a proof-of-concept pilot in Latin America in March, 2013. Once that proved the model worked, the first North American conference was held in Philadelphia last June, with over 450 attendees. That swelled to 650 attendees last week in Atlanta.
Some of the innovations that are here today but for most people represent the future of research rather than its present include: mobile, microsurveys, Big Data, text analytics, and future narratives.
Mobile Was a Constant Theme
With eight presentations and a full-day workshop covering the role of mobile in qualitative and quantitative research and mystery shopping. Prior to the workshop, Rick West of Field Agent discussed using a force of smartphone users to understand consumers at the Zero Moment of Truth (pre-purchase decisions, shopping triggers), the First Moment of Truth (decisions at the point of sale), and the Second Moment of Truth (buyer’s remorse or reflection on what they had purchased).
The Future of Surveys
Another recurring theme of the conference was musing about the future of surveys. Yes, they will be shorter and more often taken on mobile devices. But what role will surveys play in the future? Where 10 years ago, the heart of a project would have been the survey, today the survey is the mouth of a project: asking questions not present in the synthesis of data acquired from other sources. For instance, Jon Sadow of Google Consumer Surveys shared how Google itself uses surveys as variables for Big Data:
- Google uses survey data to improve DoubleClick demographic algorithms, processing millions of data points to refine its models and defining behavioral categories using survey data.
- Google’s microsurveys measure the user experience with Google ads, to improve relevance, and websites, as another input to improve search functionality.
Building on this point, Tom H. C. Anderson of Odin Text pointed out that 80% of information in the world is in unstructured text format. Text analytics is making this information more accessible than ever, and new interfaces mean that researchers don’t have to be data scientists to unlock its potential. Key, for Tom, is integrating unstructured data with structured data.
Data For Its Own Sake is Not Enough
Alex Batchelor of BrainJuicer confessed to being an “Insightsaholic” but pointed out that insights were not the ultimate goal of market research. Instead, he said, “The goal is behavior change, not insights.” Behavioral economics offers clues that researchers must follow in order to learn how to change the behavior of consumers.
Simon Chadwick, of Cambiar, said that as the number of data sources available to market researchers grows, our responsibility will be to synthesize and tell stories that inspire change.
And who better to tell stories than science-fiction writers? In news that would grab William Gibson’s attention, Ari Popper of SciFutures hires science-fiction writers to tell stories about an industry’s future. For instance, for Lowes these writers painted a vision of a holoprojector where people could redesign rooms of their house and visualize them before renovating. Attendees to the conference could take an early version of this Lowes “holoprojector” for a spin, using a tablet computer to visualize remodeling.
“It’s impossible to predict the future,” Ari said, “but we’re really trying to inspire the future.”
For the market researchers in attendance last week, IIeX did just that.