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Posts from August 2013

Neuromarketing for Dummies: a book that knows its target audience

For a couple of weeks now I have been meaning to write a post about behavioral science, or as we seem to want to call it in MR, neuromarketing.  I admit to being a skeptic, driven in part by a belief that it is very complex stuff for MR to get its arms around and by controversies like that surrounding Martin Lindstrom’s iPhone love story, which confirm that belief.  Nonetheless, I attended the first day of The 2013 Applied Educational Alliance Assembly, partly out of curiosity about behavioral science but also because it was happening about 15 minutes from my house.

It was a day well spent with an excellent series of presentations, mostly by academics steeped in theory and a broad literature of peer-reviewed experimental research.  There is a lot that can be done way of measuring emotions in the lab, but even then lots of unanswered questions and dots to be connected.  Measuring emotions outside of the controlled environment of the lab is a good deal more challenging.

Most of the others attendees were marketers interested in leveraging emotions rather than measuring them, so it was not as MR-focused as I might have liked.  But I did get the chance to talk to some of the presenters, especially about how to separate the science from the bullshit.  One of them had this to say: “In academia we have a peer review process that separates out the good research from the bad research; in market research you have the marketplace.” 

By coincidence, that same day the news came out about Google using their glasses to measure emotions via eye pupil dilation.  Although this sounds cool, The Scientific American reminds us that doing this outside of the lab is harder than we might think.

But I digress.  What got me to finally write a post was the release of the new book, Neuromarketing for Dummies.  My first thought was that it was a hoax, a parody.  What fun!  But no, it’s the real deal.  Already being lavished with praise on Greenbook.  And it probably will sell like crazy in MR because this is how the industry learns new things: pop science, not real science.  Always looking for the Cliff Notes.  Boiling it down to a few bullets on a PowerPoint slide.

Behavioral science is the real deal.  Just as big data has the potential to redefine how we describe what people do, behavioral science can transform how we describe why they do it.  We should be digging into it, learning its foundations, and not overselling it.   Unlikely on all three counts.

If You Need to Know What’s Legal, You’re Already on the Losing Path

This is the second and final post from Michael Link on location.

Privacy and ethics concerns in research are not new, but they have taken on considerably higher visibility in our 24/7 news world as researchers test the bounds of new measurement approaches. At a recent symposium on Leveraging Location hosted by Nielsen, a panel of legal experts provided some thoughts in this area on issues researchers are encountering today. Their insights went well beyond location data, hitting on aspects that involve many of us working with data from the public. (Obligatory warning: I’m not a lawyer; these are simply my observations and interpretation of the discussion). Three broad lessons caught my attention:

First and foremost, start with the respondent/consumer, understanding and acting in accordance with their expectations. How data are collected and the insights generated should be readily apparent to the “average person.” If your starting point is “the law” or “what is legal”, you’ve already put yourself in a hole. Laws and regulations provide a base -- a bare minimum, what the public demands is often much more. As researchers we should operate within the reasonable expectations of the majority of the public, yet not necessarily feel constrained by folks on the extremes.

Second, to lead in innovation you cannot be afraid to have your name in the paper and receive negative comments. In essence, as one panelist put it “get comfortable not being comfortable.” Pushing the envelope involves a degree of calculated and real risk. If your organization likes to keep a low profile and acts with alarm at the first half-dozen negative emails received, then you might want to take “innovation leader” off of your long-term business strategy. Note that Rule #1 above is still in effect, so setting expectations accordingly and having a good grasp of the potential risks is imperative.

Third, time is an important and often under-appreciated dimension of attitudes towards privacy and ethics. These are not static features of our society, but rather evolving concepts. What may have been unthinkable a few years ago (using a smartphone as a “virtual wallet”) now seems commonplace. Likewise, certain aspects of data collection in this digital/organic data era that seem unreasonable to the public today (and hence, would be good to avoid) may become more readily accepted with time and incremental exposure. The trick to innovating, of course, is knowing when the time may be right. To this there is no clear right answer, but the public (and the press) will let you know if you have chosen unwisely.  

Leveraging Location: Where Are We?

My buddy, Michael Link, is Chief Behavioral Methodologist at Nielsen. A couple of weeks back he organized a symposium focused on location.  I asked him to do a guest post here and this is the first of his two reports.

Location can have a strong influence on people’s attitudes and behaviors, but what does the term really mean and how can we measure it with any degree of confidence? Location may be a stationary place or geography (i.e., home, work, store, theater) or a transitory pathway (e.g., route taken from point A to point B with stops or points of interest in between), with each providing different forms and levels of insights. Traditionally the province of recall surveys and activity diaries, mobile technologies and big data sources are opening an array of routes to our ability to measure and utilize location information. To address these and related issues, Nielsen recently hosted a symposium entitled “Measurement on the Move: Leveraging the Power of Location,” bringing together 30 research experts from telecom, digital, consumer goods, media, academia and government for two days of discourse on sources of location data, developing meaningful metrics, turning measures into insights, as well as legal and ethical challenges.

Borrowing concepts espoused by former Census Director Robert Groves, Nielsen Chief Demographer and Fellow Ken Hodges laid out the key issues by contrasting location as “design data” (collected from known populations for a specific purpose often with controlled methods) versus “organic” data (largely unstructured, massive datasets that arise from the information ecosystem with few controls). In the context of location today, design data are typically those captured via a mobile device using GPS-enabled trails and “check-in” features -- the link between the respondent and the locations is typically meaningful and durable, there is a focus on addresses/geography (fixed longitude and latitude), with researchers often seeking to freeze movement thereby capturing a moment in time. In contrast, “organic data” comes from sources such as telecom carrier records (largely cell phone tower information) where the link between people and location is often transitory and may actually have little meaning, focus is on broader spaces, proximity, and general patterns, with researchers seeking to extract understanding of movement over spans of time. Very different approaches to location, often addressing different questions and requiring different analytic techniques. Both have challenges in terms of coverage (persons and geography), location measurement specificity (variations in their measurement exactness), ease of capture, and validation of insights gained. Location isn’t a new concept, but is one being renewed by technological change, offering multifaceted opportunities as well as challenges.

Not much new with mobile

A few weeks back I attended the Market Research in the Mobile World conference in Minneapolis.  This was the third in a series of North American conferences (there are events in Europe and Asia as well) that styles it self as “the original, premier event for the Mobile Market Research Industry.”  I had been to the first event in Atlanta in 2011 as well as last year’s event in Cincinnati.  I was in Minneapolis in part to represent ESOMAR on a panel, but also to find out what’s new with mobile.  As it turns out, not much.

The style of this conference has always been somewhat frenetic.  By my count there were 31 presentations over the two days.  Presenters zipped on and off the stage without much time to think about what was said or connect the dots to draw a larger picture.  And, as one would expect, many of the presenters were from new entrants who view the industry solely through the lens of mobile.  So it was like assembling the elephant one piece at a time. And, of course, there were the sales pitches from the podium, most of which we have all heard countless times before.  One good thing: the organizers have filtered out what Mark Michelson likes to call “the cowboys,” meaning companies organized principally to collect PII and sell mobile advertising rather than do research.

One of the more telling moments of this conference was Larry Gold’s ask for help in developing a better method for estimate mobile market research revenues.  Larry is editor of Inside Research and is currently pegging the US spend on mobile at around $42M, a drop in the bucket for an $8B industry.  He knows he’s not capturing what he calls “multimode,” meaning the portion of online surveys where respondents choose on their own to complete by mobile, people we increasingly refer to as “unintended mobile respondents.”  But he also knows that he is missing all of the firms who only do mobile.  This seemed like the obvious audience to help him out.  Any ideas?  Silence.  What do you think the current spend really is?  A few guesses ranging from $1M to $400M.  I asked him the next day whether anyone had approached him with ideas.  Nada.

Far and away the two best presentations of the conference were the bookends.  Jeanine Bassett from General Mills (just down the road from the conference venue) opened the conference by describing her company’s migration to mobile, that first concrete evidence I have seen of a major client making an all-out commitment.  She embraced a target of having 80% of their research on mobile by the end of 2014.  Dan Foreman of Lumi Mobile closed the conference with a vision of the future of mobile that tried to pull all of the strands together in a way that described not just mobile, but a transformed industry.

Right now it is slow going.  That’s something of a mystery given the penetration levels, not just of mobile phones but also of the mobile web. I have some thoughts on that but I’m saving them for the AMSRS Conference next month in Sydney.