According to Jacob Ayoub of Salesforce, ‘Insights driven business will take $1.2 trillion a year by 2020’ (Forester Research). I’ll admit that I’m not sure what proportion of that figure accounts specifically for market research. However, after just three months in the industry I’m pretty convinced that market research is increasingly crucial in informing marketing and business decision making.
Being offered a ticket to IIeX Europe therefore seemed like a great opportunity to get my head around the importance of this ever-changing industry. It also meant I could further understanding of terms such ‘artificial intelligence’ and ‘automation’ which have become a part of my daily vocabulary since joining the research world. I duly hopped on the plane to Amsterdam, ready to listen to the experts and develop my own insight into the data, research and insights industry.
An overarching theme of the conference was the humanisation of the research process. Presentations emphasised the importance of treating research participants like real people and understanding the results as more than just numbers. Understanding participants’ interests and interactions in daily life is a big part of this. Northstar and Jaguar Land Rover’s presentation explained how using the format from the television programme, The Apprentice, allowed greater insight into consumer behaviour as the researchers could learn from the participants’ interactions. Moreover, LRW Tonic explained how utilising pop culture, such as recording video responses via Snapchat, or through the format of the British TV show ‘Gogglebox’ allows increased engagement from participants if they’re familiar with these media. They argued that these human-centric technologies can make real differences in the research process, rather than just using technology for the sake of it.
The humanisation of data was also prevalent throughout the storytelling session, chaired by Keen as Mustard’s very own Lucy Davison. Speakers focused on the importance of engaging your audience with your insights. Here, James Mansell and Matt Cole from The Moment, UX designer Anna Dahlstrom and Focus Vision’s Zoe Dowling explained that its important to use stories to contextualise insights as this makes them more actionable. Using real stories and small data such as images and videos provides an authenticity that makes audiences engage and care. This ultimately inspires a more impactful response from those you are trying to reach and influence.
Even the conference’s presentations on AI emphasised the importance of people. It was reassuring to hear from the experts that robots will be developed to assist humans, rather than replace them. Unilever’s Stan Sthanunathan, spoke about ‘augmented intelligence’, explaining that it is human responsibility to create a system of machines that we will be aided by, rather than slaves to. Likewise, Aaron Reid argued that automation allows more time for humans to focus on delivering results to clients. Automating market research procedures gives researchers extra time for system 2 thinking (understanding, feeling and empathising), processes. These form the basis of good marketing and give more rewarding outcomes to clients. Charlotte Pearson Duff of FlexMR presented research comparing a human’s analysis of qualitative data with a machine’s. Although the machine could complete the analysis faster, it also made assumptions based on the sentiment of a participant’s response that humans would be more cautious to make. Therefore, a joint approach including humans and AI is the most accurate in providing a deeper understanding with statistical validation.
Considering that market research voices the thoughts of consumers, as well as people more generally, this human-centric approach should perhaps not have been so surprising. But in an industry fascinated by numbers, and with the increasing use of technology to fuel big data, it’s easy to see how the people behind the numbers might get forgotten along the way. It was reassuring to explore how people, data and technology can coexist and benefit each other and to hear such a loud reminder from the IIeX speakers that creating insights is easier when they do.