Can I Get Yo’ Number?

Observations December 13, 2010 8:32 pm

Before you get too excited, I’m talking more along the lines of your heart rate, respiration, eye movements, motions, and sweat levels.

And why exactly am I so interested in your bodily functions?  Don’t worry, it’s all in the name of market research and moving the idea of exactly what ‘market research’ is and it’s role in the advertising industry forward.  And it’s also in response to Faris Yakob‘s recent blog post, ‘All Market Research is Wrong.’ In his post, Faris writes,

“In essence, the foundation of market research is that, by asking lots of people questions, or asking a smaller group of people more in depth questions, we can gather dependable insights into why they buy what they buy, and whether or not they will buy something in the future, perhaps after having seen some advertising.  I don’t believe this is true.For two, very simple reasons.

1. We don’t know why we do what we do.

We make these [and most] decisions at a subconscious level, which means, by definition, the operations of the decision process are inaccessible to our conscious minds. That doesn’t mean people won’t answer though.They will happily answer, erroneously, in a way that seems to make sense, as their minds create explanatory fictions to explain their own behavior to themselves, or the interviewer.

2. The gulf between claimed attitudes [and intentions] and actual behavior is vast.

Asking people if they intend to buy something is analogous to asking them if they intend to go to the gym – the results may not correspond well with future behavior.Focus groups are particularly fraught: they create utterly artificial data as a response to utterly artificial situations and social dynamics. ”

What scares me about this post is the absoluteness of it:  ‘All.Market.Research.Is.Wrong.’  While I don’t disagree that Faris makes some valid points, I do think he’s missing the bigger picture.  I agree with him on this point- market research alone shouldn’t be the only thing used to make a decision.

And this is what I disagree with- the idea that market research is wrong.  Call it misguided/directional, but don’t call it wrong.  And don’t think it’s not your responsibility, even if you’re job isn’t as a ‘market researcher.’  We’re all working towards the same end goal- to reach consumers and get them to buy our products- so if the product is a failure, we’re all wrong.  The market research alone wasn’t wrong- there were other components in the process.  It’s time we stopped thinking of market research as such a formalized function- everyone has the right to ask ‘why’ or ‘how’ or ‘who’, even if they are a financial analyst, copywriter, advertising exec, or researcher.  It’s time we start thinking outside of our work function silos and more collaboratively- since the our final product (the advertisement/tv show, etc) is only as great of all of it’s parts.  It’s scary to think that Faris is willing to discount ‘all’ market research rather than see it as a piece of the puzzle.

I say this as a researcher for a cable network– I know research is, at its best, a supporting function.  Yes, it’s not always 100% accurate (but guess what, nothing in life is 100%) and it’s often misconstrued (by even the most well meaning sales person).  But I also know that research is a great guiding tool- a gut check if you will.  And market research doesn’t have to be so formalized- curious people are always doing some sort of ‘research’- ‘why’ is the most basic research question there is!  I think Faris makes a good point when he says ‘we don’t know why we do what we do.’  True, but isn’t it human nature to always want to try to find out about the world around us?  Just think of little kids- why is the sky blue? why are we having pasta tonight? why why why?  We start asking this ‘why’ early on in life and never stop– the only difference is, at work sometimes I think we forget about keeping an open mind and asking ‘why’ about everything and only ‘why’ about our specific job function.  If we could start to think and question outside of our work silos– for example, researchers trying to think more creatively, creatives trying to think about ROI, etc… couldn’t we all help the end goal? (c’mon people, it’s a collaborative effort!)

We’ll never know the answers to everything, but the more we can keep asking why and think as a collaborative team (rather than as a ‘researcher’ or as a ‘creative’ or as a ‘salesperson’) the closer we’ll come to delivering products/advertising to consumers that really hit home.  And the more we’ll innovate in everything we do.

Which brings me back to my original question- ‘Can I get your number?’ Faris, perhaps this innovation in market research will excite you– and hopefully get you to change your post from ‘All Market Research is Wrong’ to ‘All Market Research is Directional/Supportive/Part of the Process’!  And hopefully it will also help show that when different job functions collaborate, the results can be astounding.

So if we don’t know why we do things, and it’s really subconscious, why don’t we turn to the subconscious to help tell us why we do things?  Let’s combine neuroscience and research in focus groups to get a better understanding of people.  Innerscope Research (along with a handful of other companies) are moving market research from the conscious to the subconscious- by measuring your body’s emotional response to advertisements through the autonomic nervous system.  Innerscope’s approach reads almost identically to Faris’ objective with market research: ‘Emotion comes before thought, feelings or actions.   Because these initial emotions are processed below the conscious level, traditional advertising research, which relies on conscious self report, in unable to effectively measure them.’ (taken from Innerscope website.)

Similar to a traditional focus group, subjects watch advertisements/tv programs, but instead of answering questions from a moderator, Innerscope analyzes subjects’ reactions via a fancy belt, which measures:

1. Respiration- analyzes breathing patterns and identifies key reactive responses such as laughter, boredom, and tension.

2. Motion- measures the degree and direction of motion to indicate subject’s reaction

3.  Heart rate- analyzes ECG data to calculate patterns and changes in heart rate, which measures general mood states like fear and relief.

4. Galvanic Skin Response- measures the electrical resistance of the skin to determine microscopic changes in sweat levels, which quantifies emotional arousal and excitement.

5.  Eye Tracking- Unobtrusive, infrared cameras identify where subjects are looking- time locked to the subject’s other measurements, eye tracking shows exactly where the subject was looking during any response/time period.

(from Innerscope, here)  Measuring these reactions gives advertisers/programmers a measure of engagement- and at the exact moments when subjects were engaged/disengaged.  (See a successful campaign here)

Still think all market research is wrong, Faris?  This type of market research takes into account your concerns with the gap between what we ‘think’ we do and what we actually do (and I’m guessing this is also a concern of many people).  But these smart neuroscientists have moved the idea of market research forward and have allowed for a closer look into the ‘whys’ of consumer behavior.  With Innerscope’s approach, we’re about to know more precisely when and what caused viewers to engage/disengage- true, it’s never going to be 100% perfect, but we’re getting closer.   Taking Innerscope research and combining it with the creative process (oh hey, collaboration for the same end goal!) we can learn more about basic emotional responses and how we can better tailor creative to elicit the emotional responses we want— what type music did viewers positively respond to? Is it better to be direct at the front of the ad or have an element of shock value? How important is imagery? What about the same imagery with different music?

And the questions and (directional, not right or wrong) learnings continue…

Let’s stop thinking ‘market research’ and start with just asking ‘why’- all of us- not just the ‘researchers.’  And let’s start thinking of the entire advertising process as more of a  collaborative effort.

So, if I haven’t entirely overstepped my boundaries, the question is still open- Can I get your number?  Let’s chat and start innovating and moving the ad industry forward.

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  • Dane

    Boy oh boy, is this the truth. I like research studies as much as the next guy, but we must take all research with “a grain of salt” because when you put people in interviewing situations, they have a tendency to answer based on either what they think they should say, or, who they believe themselves to be.

    If you believe in the existence of an unconscious — as I do — then you hopefully learn to look at subtext, too.

    • justallie

      Thanks Dane- I agree, we should always take research with a grain of salt and look at the subtext. I think we also need to consider that ‘research’ doesn’t have to be this really formalized process– when in fact, we can ‘research’ at any moment of the day. We can listen to what’s going on around us, talk with people we meet about our subject (mine is TV), look to news publications, social media, etc… we’re ‘studying’ all the time as long as we’re curious and we’ve got our ears and eyes open!

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