The robots aren’t coming, they’re already here… This isn’t the opening line of some trashy, 1950s, sci-fi novel, it’s a statement of fact.
Artificial intelligence, virtual reality, chatbots are already on the scene, representing sizeable opportunities, as well as challenges, for the market research sector. Completely wondrous, or rather scary? It depends upon your choice of lens for future-gazing.
Let’s start by unpacking some of the mind-boggling acronyms (AI, ML, VR, to name but three) always associated with anything new and shiny!
So, AI – artificial intelligence (yes, you got that one). ML – machine learning (new to you? Fairly new to us). VR – virtual reality (yeah, old hat, we all know VR, don’t we?).
Yes, AI is ‘alive’ and well in our sector: Automated alerts based upon performance tracking thresholds? Yep, that’s AI. Personalised reminders to survey non-completers? You guessed it, AI. Text analytics based upon key triggers? AI all the way.
So, how can ML inform our insight activity? One important application lies in the identification of patterns or significance in research findings that might have been overlooked in our initial hypotheses.
Machine learning can evaluate all possibilities from every angle, and can do this for volumes of data beyond the reach of even the most capable analyst. It has the facility to discover more intricate patterns and produce more insight-rich forecasts. The better decision making we all aim for.
In our experience, VR serves to permit the collection of valuable measures of emotional and practical/functional response without the need for ‘getting hands dirty’. Additionally, of course, it offers the opportunity to collect response – in ‘real time’, as the experience plays out.
So the case for VR in data collection and fieldwork is compelling. But there are other uses too: How much more impactful and immersive would your debrief sessions be if stakeholders could interact with data as Jeremy Vine does on election nights? Possibly not quite as far-fetched as it might sound. Real-time data visualisation is already with us. Surely, it can’t be too long before VR is on the agenda?
Various technologies are used to deliver AR: Optical projection systems, monitors, hand-held devices, and display apps are all utilised. In the market research context, AR has been applied most successfully in the NPD and product optimisation arenas, allowing brand teams to maximise concepts in a virtual environment without the expense of prototyping.
Skopos London is already using chatbot technology in the collection of survey data. Parallel testing results have shown a remarkably consistent question response, but the respondent experience is much improved.
Another MR application lies in the moderation of online discussions/communities. The scaling potential here takes us into ‘Big Qual’ territory, however, work remains to be done before the deep learning and natural language processing required to replicate a human moderator is achieved.
Change is happening apace, and as insight professionals we must embrace the opportunities on offer. Customers now access and purchase goods through a plethora of different channels and we must be ready, willing and able to understand the processes and motivations that drive their decision-making.
Much of robotic development aims to automate and streamline the thankless tasks involved in research. It’s not about replacing humans with robots, but more about the freeing-up of headspace for deeper analysis and higher-level, strategic, thought – which can only be a good thing.
So, to round all off, in the famous words of one explorer of new technologies (and worlds). ‘Beam me up Scotty…’
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