Essentially, the ‘Internet of Things’ tracks human behaviour in as unobtrusive and rewarding a way as possible. It is very different to traditional market research interviews. Google has mopped up human behaviour technologies in every imaginable area of life: the company has hundreds of unmanned cars roaming streets in America; robot-delivering postal systems and soothing information-integrators.
As such, Google has become the most proactive, thoughtful personal assistant for anyone owning a smartphone.
The basis of this is a changed respondent who willingly engages in sharing personal information with a company that is known for data privacy transgressions. This respondent would never allow her bank, cell phone company or market researcher into her bedroom – but yet Google is right there.
Some key trends are relevant: Google creates billionaires by buying life-tracking internet software, rendering a lot of market research superfluous.The consumer becomes the willing respondent by being emotionally engaged with wearable technology, which requires no language barriers.The digital divide between the United States (US), Asia and Europe is widening – Africa will have to leapfrog early developments.
The growth of advertisement-free communication is based on the premise of keeping it personally beneficial, for example, WhatsApp and Snapchat. Research needs to crack the respondent feedback loop. Commoditised share ratings like Rate Us!, SurveyMonkey and Yelp! make market research accessible to anyone without a budget or statistician on the payroll. The various data privacy scandals have created an awareness around owning and protecting personal information, which could, in turn benefit market researchers. Market researchers are debating ‘big data’ and online versus social media data collection benefits, while Google has quietly teamed up behavioural scientists with technologists.
Has the industry missed a trick?
Does this mean our industry has missed a trick? Possibly. Does it also signify that we will be relegated to developing interesting qualitative techniques with which to elucidate Google’s life-trackers? Maybe. Is the application of market research changing in business towards conceptually simple research? Yes.
Tracking measurements, which constitute at least half, and often up to 70%, of a research budget are under threat. US businesses are already replacing their large brand trackers (with a life of decades behind them) with two-question trackers. Customer Experience Trackers have been significantly affected by the work of Reichheld, who launched the Net Promoter Score with Bain Consultants. Company boards love this simple kind of measurement, which requires no interpretive research experience. While Harvard professors and many practitioners like myself regard the Net Promotor Score (NPS) as misleading, there’s no denying its seductive simplicity.
A kickass cocktail is being mixed in African societies, which could help the market research industry to leapfrog the quantitative love affair that has captivated global market research industries for decades.
The ingredients of it are the love of technology and sharing of experiences that Africans have on a intra-personal level. Add to this a knowledge industry devoid of what gets statisticians excited: sampling grids, accurate population estimates, homogeneous religions, languages and education levels over and above concentrated urban populations, none of which is of any interest to technologists.
Market research in mainstream Africa
Market research in mainstream Africa works differently to that in Birmingham, Boston, Berlin or even Bombay (Mumbai). When the technology is used to leapfrog the statistical gaps, from which the market research industry is suffering in Africa, exciting new ‘market’ research becomes available. This often mobile data collection is criticised by purists, yet embraced by corporate marketers or research buyers worn down by the tedious nature of market research. The latter comes with its own baggage in any event.
Let me leave you with this thought: Google earns more than a billion US dollars a month from its knowledge of human behaviour. Do you still think WPP is the largest market research company in the world? Do you still think that discussions around big data are relevant? Do you still think respondents are a commodity? Think again.
Andrea Rademeyer is the CEO and founder of AskAfrica, the largest independent South African market research company with fieldwork capabilities in 95% of sub-Saharan Africa.
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