Simple, Scalable and in Shanghai: The future of research?

Allow me to blow my trumpet a little: David and I recently presented at the AMSRS conference in Sydney on automated facial imaging – the content must have been worthy, as it earned the ESOMAR-sponsored “Best Presented Paper” Award. But, truth be told, we felt the driver of the award was probably people’s excitement at seeing how much detailed information on emotional response to marketing stimuli can be delivered by a system that just ‘watches human faces over a webcam’. This is illustrated below:

Facial Imaging: From Faces to Reports, No Questions Asked!

The appeal of such systems also came up in a discussion I had recently with a senior colleague that was spurred by news of events at EmSense: While things may yet turn out for the best, it did seem to us that selling a system based on sophisticated hardware to US customers, in these tough times, cannot have been easy. As we tossed around the issues, it seemed apparent that as clients become ever more cost-focused and have to deal with massive amounts of data from multiple sources they become increasingly obsessed with research services that are both scalable and simple to implement and interpret.

The days of methodologically unique, time intensive, project-based services may be numbered with a few exceptions in niche areas that won’t be the growth drivers of our industry. Two “S’s” really start to matter:  (a) Scalability – can I collect, process and interpret masses of information in a scalable, repeatable manner, and (b) Simplicity – can I minimise the effort needed to get a research system understood, and actively used, across a large organisation whose internal MR units are getting ever leaner?

In this case, “scalable” and especially “simple” do not equate to “dumb” or “unsophisticated”. They imply instead that designers have thought how to integrate and present information from multiple sources and how to align new technologies to work with existing research techniques. Implementation and acceptance of new techniques is a key part of the simplicity and scalability requirement – technology and new ideas have to adapt to the ways of humans in organisations. Technical and process efficiency is not, on its own, enough to guarantee scalability and simplicity of implementation in the real world.

To the above two “S’s”, I’d like to add a third: “Shanghai”, where that city serves as a placeholder for emerging markets generally. A research service that doesn’t rapidly show evidence of its adaptability to emerging markets will have a hard time getting acceptance from clients whose strategies are increasingly global. To take a topic close to my heart, imagine a client who measures emotional response to a global campaign concept by EEG in the USA, by metaphor scales in Europe, by FGD’s in the Middle East and by Likert scales in Asia. (This scenario, btw, would be funny if I had not seen some rather similar examples in recent years).

Aside from the comparability of outputs, the challenges of translation, cultural norms and so on conspire to make building a ‘global view’ of a brand a nightmare for many clients. As the axes of MR spend move towards emerging markets, we have to adapt. At the very least this means keeping the cost of new research services down to acceptable emerging markets levels, and adapting services for delivery in diverse and difficult settings. These markets are already some of the biggest customers of Coca-Cola and Pepsi, Unilever and P&G, and before long they will be among the bigger customers of Apple and other high tech companies. Our services need to reach them.

Let me illustrate this with the facial imaging example we presented in Australia. The diagram at the top of this post illustrates the nViso 3D Facial Imaging process, but essentially it is simple – link to the nViso system in the middle of a standard online survey, collect pictures of a face (with permission!) over a webcam and the service automatically generates charts and data files showing second by second emotional response over seven different emotions to whatever it was the respondent was looking at. Now I should declare that David and I provide consultancy services to nViso, and have a small stake in the company, but the point I want to get across here is the “Triple-S” nature of the service (with apologies to the other “Triple-S” services and standards around our industry!).

  • Simple – the equipment required is minimal (standard webcams on respondents own computers),
  • Scalable– the automated process deals with large amounts of data collected remotely and cost-efficiently and easy to interpret outputs are available fast.
  • And the final “S”, we recently carried out a study in China – including Shanghai!

Now, whatever you think of “facial imaging”, (email to know more!), consider this as an example of the new wave of research services which are coming on stream. These are taking off from the point where some of the higher cost and technologically demanding techniques, that received much PR in recent times, seem to have not met all expectations. It’s a trend of moving from applications that have outward sex appeal but are difficult to live with, towards methods that go beyond “Sexy” to comfortably encompass all the other “S’s”.

Examples of this new wave can be seen in the fields of mobile research, geo-location, online qualitative, MROC’s and others. These are united by a desire to make complex information simple to understand, a belief  that implementation is every bit as important as outputs, and a clear understanding that cost and geographic reach are key drivers for most clients these days.  Expect to see more examples of such “Triple-S” services as budgets tighten and ROI demands rise, while at the same time information gets ever more complex and money continues to move to emerging markets.


One Response to Simple, Scalable and in Shanghai: The future of research?

  1. Sarang Panchal says:

    Wow! Great work guys….

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