The Single Direction Technology is Moving, and Why It’s Vital to Consumer Behavior Research

Clint Taylor
Vice President & Strategic Technologist, Sentient Decision Science, Inc.

On two occasions I have been asked, “Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?” … I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question. —CHARLES BABBAGE, PASSAGES FROM THE LIFE OF A PHILOSOPHER

The term “Garbage In, Garbage Out” was inspired by that quote above, and while it’s traditionally used in technology, it has become vital to market research. It means that no matter how perfect your model, your results are ultimately limited to the quality of your data.

With over 1.4 billion smartphones in the hands of consumers worldwide, an increasing number of tablets, and wearable technology on the horizon, data collection has never been more accessible. As you read below, you will discover that technology has been evolving in a direction much more important than convenient access to your Samsung Galaxy or your iPhone.

In the early 1980’s, the personal computer brought technology from a commercially-powered behemoth to a single desk in our homes. It moved from an industrial environment to where we physically spend our time.

Since that epoch, accessing technology has evolved from sitting down next to your PC at the computer desk, to sitting down virtually anywhere with your laptop in front, to tapping your tablet display at any location, to voice activating your smartphone while doing virtually anything at any time. From walking to the computer desk at home, to finding a seat at any location, to simply reaching for the iPhone in your pocket lies an important trend. We’re physically moving less to voluntarily engage with technology.

Big Data is Everywhere

Consistent with devices having become smaller and physically closer to us, the technology we cannot see has likewise become ever-present in every move we make. The data that once ran through only plugged-in cables is now initiated by us, consumed by us and transmitted all around us through audio, video, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, gyroscopes, infrared, cellular, satellites and more.

We speak within the earshot of vocal recognition, we move our body within the detection of a gyroscope, we glance within sight of Google Glass’s observation, and we trek within eyeshot of iBeacon’s microlocation and GPS. The presence of these sensory technologies continues to envelop us – from Nike+ sneakers tracking athletic performance and intensity, to wrist tech Healbe GoBe monitoring biometrics including hydration and your caloric bottom line. We’re able to involuntarily engage in more ways.

The trend isn’t limited to those devices attached to our bodies. With our next frontier being The Internet of Things — where virtually all personal gadgets, household appliances and workplace devices are internet-connected — objects most often in our presence are sensing and transmitting data at an equally breakneck pace.

We are barraged by Bluetooth home theater broadcasting audio, iBeacons broadcasting microlocation offers, Nest thermostats detecting our presence and memorizing comfort trends, and more. We’re engaging through more sensory-equipped devices surrounding us in more locations.

The Future of Consumer Behavior Research

Increasingly convenient access to technology, an increasing breadth of devices and an increasing depth of sensory capability all converge into a single direction: technology is progressively attaching itself to human behavior. The more technology evolves, the less we physically and mentally deviate from our standard routine using it to improve our lives. What used to be ten seconds removing the laptop from the shoulder bag has become less than a second flipping the smartphone display toward you.

What used to be a voluntary search for directions when we wanted it has become the delivery of travel information and conditions at the time and place we need them. What used to be lifestyles constructed by consciously logging behavior are becoming lifestyles optimized by detecting behavior through thousands of environmental, subconscious and biometric trends.

Technology isn’t only attaching itself to human behavior, but attaching to the social and environmental elements that are both cause and consequence of it, such as the weather, the traffic ahead of you, what your friends are posting, and your physical and dietary behavior leading up to purchase decisions.

Through these attachments to consumers and their surrounding elements, we can better monitor emotional cues that would otherwise go undetected and resulting consumer choice trends based on consciously unaware conditions that would otherwise go unidentified.

Using Technology to Assess Emotional Cues

Technology is also attaching itself to the physical and neurological causes and consequences of human behavior. Since before the year 2000, neuroscience has rapidly revealed emotion as a fundamental driver of decision making to the point where it can no longer be ignored. Scalable implicit research factoring emotion into consumer choice continues to provide more insightful and scientifically valid market research conclusions.

Validation and case studies featuring neuromarketing and biometrics continue to grow. Worldwide conferences such as the Insight Innovation Exchange (IIeX) series are increasingly devoted to neuromeasures and mobile technology as key differentiators. Factoring physical, subconscious and neurological components into the drivers of consumer choice continues to be proven both scientifically and economically necessary to evolve market research to the next level.

Each new evolution in connected devices provides more intuitive communication with consumers like swiping, voice commands, body movements and biometrics. They are capable of monitoring vigor and intensity, producing data points that aren’t yes/no, but are each a continuum defined by the current emotional and subconscious state. They are increasingly connected to causal and consequential environmental and societal data, producing data that factors in the most subtle components of which consumers are unaware.

The Role of Emerging Technologies in Advanced Market Research

At a time when technology has never been more prevalent in market research data collection, there has never been a better time to mitigate “Garbage In, Garbage Out” failure and make the most sensible conclusions using the least nonsensical data. Feeding into your models complete and accurate data through intuitive, creative experiences has never been more paramount.

If market research is to continue to break barriers in quickly and accurately predicting consumer choice, then our techniques must be fused with those technologies that intimately attach themselves to all the depth and breadth of observable human behavior.

Those who are astute in adopting evolving technologies and all their sensory capabilities will be in position to thrive, armed with larger diamonds of Good Data hidden inside the masses of Big Data.

And tell me who wouldn’t prefer larger diamonds.

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