How to innovate like a market researcher (and jumping the shark)

There is not a sector that is immune from disruption. From day one of this week’s Australian Market and Social Research Society Conference in Melbourne it is great to hear some of the global paths being followed.

Some of the key trends available and being developed to provide consumer insight and support decision making include greater use of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, improved blending of large volumes of data from different sources, enhanced automation of reporting capabilities, turning analysis of videos (from youtube etc) into structured data, passive data collection and more advanced use of neuroscience in decision making from advertising to new product development.

Ray Poynter (research guru from the UK) was interviewed for an upcoming episode of ‘Real People.’ He discussed the rise of research methodologies such as semiotics (the study of signs and sign processes, analogy, allegory, metaphor, symbolism et cetera), particularly in Europe.  You can find an article by Ray and associated links in relation to semiotics via here.

Ray also discussed an innovation that was echoed by other panelists and speakers as to the advances and innovation towards turning the large volume of video data being created on social sharing platforms into structured data for decision making. Discussion from researchers came as to success in analysing long recordings of video footage into analysis of shopping patterns, consumer behaviour et cetera. Typically such data is conducted via ethnographic observation approaches, i.e. an expert researcher analysing and recording patterns, which can be very laborious and much slower. Artificial Intelligence is moving towards making such analysis ‘overnight’ rather than several weeks or more, and hence offering potential time and budget sensitivity issues.

Jason also interviewed Dr Elvira Fischer (ex-Olympian, neuroscientist and researcher, based in Copenhagen). Elvira shared how the ‘hype’ around using neuroscience in research to measure advertising and other decision making has now settled, as the cowboys leave and the experts offering value remain. Elvira  works as a neuroscientist and product specialist to support clients like Harvard, Stanford, Unilever or BMW in their endeavour to utilise insights into human behavior and emotional responses.

iMotions (, initially founded on eye tracking for retail and other clients, and has since advantanced this technology and broadened into facial expression analysis, video analysis (e.g. what is the mood of customers on entering and leaving a venue) and measuring arousal (from product, advertising and other stimuli). Electroencephalography (EEG) also allows for tracking of motivation, cognitive workload and engagement. Much of the work of Elvira and her team is about measuring unconscious decision making, away from the conscious, which research illustrates can be inaccurate (e.g. a person might say they like a product, but their EEG says otherwise).

Other observations from the conference – a nice skew towards females in key decision making roles and starting out in market and social research, and a similar positive balance of speakers from both locally and visiting from overseas. Also a key focus is the importance of finding strategically valuable insight among the exponential growth in available data, as well as maintaining high privacy and ethical standards. Some argued that we don’t need more data, just better capabilities to find strategic insight from what is now available. Data is the new black, with Facebook, Amazon and other fast growth juggernauts seeing themselves more so data and customer focused enterprises than in the business of selling (although they sell more, because of the data + customer focus).

Disruption is everywhere and in every sector for ever more, and it is nice that research is swimming much faster than the shark, even jumping it.

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