Advertising has come a long way from the skinny-tied, whisky-drinking world of Mad Men. Gone are the days when advertisers were society’s puppet master, steering consumers’ opinions, driving their decisions, and telling them what they didn’t know they wanted.
The strings have been cut and the tables have turned. Nowadays, consumers know (or think they know) what they want, driving advertisers and sending market researchers scrambling to understand why we do the things we do.
Advertising has shifted because consumers – and the world they live in – have shifted. We’re living in a technology driven, digital world where consumers don’t go shopping without first reading online customer reviews and are persuaded by a social influencer’s single Instagram post.
So what does this look like for market researchers? The ways in which we collect data – and how much we are able to gather – continues to evolve. From social media to the implementation of machine learning algorithms, tech has changed marketing research in a number of ways. We now have improved data collection techniques, enhanced data analysis methods and the capabilities to compile big data.
As for approach, traditional research methodologies like face-to-face focus groups and phone interviews are decreasing in popularity while efficient web based approaches and automated digital methods are taking over. Sure, we can look behind people’s screens to see what they’re clicking, but how do we uncover why they’re clicking?
The scope and capabilities of online surveys, for example, have definitely improved. Companies like AYTM Market Research offers access to a panel of over 25 million. The acronym stands for Ask Your Target Market and is a great tool for collecting large amounts of quantitative data. In a matter of days, and sometimes hours, brands and agencies can gain insights from their target markets.
Using big data is important for marketers to uncover layered insights. Major marketing research company Market Strategies, for example, now has a team of data scientists devoted to this discipline. This is yet another example of an evolving world of research. Although still a fairly new profession, data science was called “The Sexiest Job of the 21st Century” by Harvard Business Review. It goes to show just how in demand this growing world of market research really is.
Analyzing All That Data
Another new tool that marketing research will begin to see more and more of is artificial intelligence (AI). While there are many ways to collect data sets, they still require a lot of effort to analyze. Soon, AI technologies will completely change this paradigm.
Glimpzlt, for example, offers what they call “AI powered customer intelligence.” Glimpzlt analyzes unstructured data such as pictures, videos and text using machine learning. Through this technique, they are able to analyze the content and reveal its underlying human sentiment(s).
According to the CEO, Parry Bedi, “In the not so distant future, this technology will enable us to understand audio, text, and any other form of unstructured and structured data to build a holistic picture of a consumer. The bottom line is that AI technology will enable brands to achieve instant insights at scale.”
What About Qualitative?
It’s easy to understand how digital platforms and automation makes collecting quantitative data easier and more efficient, but what about qualitative data? Consumer culture is never still, but rather sits in a blurred puddle of expectation, individuality, social norms, moral boundaries, and desires, forcing marketing research to constantly adapt and change their approach.
Keeping up with the trends that drive marketing as well as the ideas, opinions and beliefs of our consumers in an ever-changing technological world is one thing, but really understanding their behaviour is another. The truth is, humans don’t fully understand humans. So how do we get around this?
A New Approach
A new company whose entire mission is to get as close as possible to human truths – truths that the people they’re studying don’t even know about themselves – is MotivIndex. MotivIndex is a company that’s innovating the way brands research human behaviour online and have pioneered a methodology called Digital Motivation Research. They carry out ethnographic research on a big data scale across the web, diving into online communities, social media platforms, and all other areas of the Internet to truly understand consumers’ motivations, opinions, and beliefs.
Why don’t humans understand humans? Well, according to MotivIndex’s book Web True.0, people lie. Not because we want to, but rather that we struggle to articulate the emotions and motivations behind our decisions when asked. Basically, we don’t know what we want, like, or think.
Simon Sinek offers a reason for this truth in his book Start With Why, referenced in Web True.0, where he argues, “The part of our brain that motivates us to do something is completely different from the part of the brain that helps us express it in words.”
MotivIndex’s philosophy is to never ask consumers what they think or believe. Instead, MotivIndex observes them without ever revealing the ethnographic researcher’s presence online. Although the concept of ethnography isn’t a new phenomenon, immersive ethnographic research refers to the researcher acting like an undercover agent, disguising themselves as members of that particular (in this case, online) culture.
Many brands rely on numbers rather than consumer values, so by focusing on discovering what their target audience’s underlying motivations are, MotivIndex can identify consumer beliefs and truly understand who is influencing their audiences and how.
MotivIndex also discovered that consistency of action is the key to reveal the large human truths. By avoiding the distraction of demographics, eliminating availability bias, and allowing consumers to act as they would and say what they mean without prompts, they can discover the shared beliefs and values consumers have surrounding a brand, issue, or idea. Simply put, MotivIndex is changing the way we research, while fuelling effective strategy and successful creative that is truly reflective of its audience.
Social Media & Mobile
Now that we understand how companies like MotivIndex are looking at research differently, we can explore what these different platforms have to offer. Social media and mobile are now at the forefront of where researchers are looking for data and consumer insights, something that is still fairly new and growing at an exponential rate.
Social media is a fresh new source of real-time data and allows businesses to watch consumer trends and behaviours as they organically develop and evolve. Researchers can listen in on (or read) conversations between members in a specific market to pick up on the latest developments. As online communities continue to grow, specialist software designed to sort through social media platforms will become more and more popular.
Unmetric, for example, is a social media data and analytics platform that provides “AI powered marketing insights to create compelling branded content.” Unmetric combines campaign intelligence, content intelligence and sector benchmarks to analyze and review the progress or pitfalls of a brand’s social media content.
Where social media platforms live provides an even greater opportunity: Mobile. Everything and everyone is mobile. Consumers look at their phones 150 times a day and researchers have spent the last few years scurrying to keep up with the huge shift towards mobile. PEW Research recently began to offer mobile surveys, increasing the percentage of their surveys conducted by telephone vs. mobile up to 75%.
mXP by Phoenix Marketing International understands the importance of mobile. By combining primary survey data, mobile-tracked behavioural data, and location data all in one, mXP forms an extensive network of on-the-go consumers. Their approach provides brands and marketers with answers to business critical questions centred around the opportunities of mobile. John Schiela, President of Phoenix, shared, “While technology enables a tremendous increase in the breadth and depth of data, it still requires experienced professionals to transform all of the information into insights that tell a story.”
Bringing It All Together
While there are many companies who understand the power of big data, specialize in qualitative findings, or focus on social media platforms and mobile device opportunities, the key to powerful results comes from bringing it all together. Marketers must blend multiple methodologies together to form a well-rounded research approach.
Combining their findings with other web-based components provides a fuller, richer picture of the consumers being researched. Triangulating quantitative and qualitative methods is great, but going even further to include things like social media, online diaries, webcam interviews, mobile tracking, and more will yield the most powerful of insights.
As technology offers us new tools, it’s important to critically decide which approach is best for your brand. While most new methods focus on immediacy and efficiency, it’s worth reminding yourself that sometimes, slow and steady wins the race.
As advertisers, it is our job to understand consumer motivations in order to uncover insights and communicate them accordingly. By putting in the work to uncover real human truths based on consumers’ real beliefs, we can begin to build a comprehensive picture of the consumer, without having to ask them to paint it, first.