Erika Harriford-McLaren 

The thought of summer school probably conjures up images of boring lectures and sitting inside while your friends are out, having fun and enjoying exciting new experiences.

I’d like to think that ESOMAR has turned that cliche on its head with the launch of its Summer Academy. The 2012 edition explores the current “trending” topics of passive measurement, social media, online and mobile research, providing researchers and academics from across the globe with the opportunity to delve deeper into these topics and gain new knowledge and insights from each other and leaders in these fields. The next 5 days, will see workshops, discussions and an interactive seminar all aimed at creating dialogue amongst our industry and finding solutions and new strategies for our clients and consumers.

The academy opened with a seminar on passive methods. Pete Laybourne, of Fathom International and chairman of the seminar committee, opened the event noting that things have changed rapidly in the last 3 years since he first worked with ESOMAR on reviewing guidelines for passive methods.  He took the delegates through an opening salvo of what passive methods are, first by reviewing common active measurement tools such as face-to-face, phone and online/self completion and then giving a run through of passive methods as we commonly know them, the obvious examples of CCTV, smartphone technology, filming ethnography, EEG and the not so obvious, such as those methods employed by new players in the game such as Google, who collect data in ways that may not fall within the remit of our professional guidelines and ways of working.

This seems easy enough. Sit back, quietly watch folks and then gather the data, measure it and present your findings. But is this really the case?  The crux of this seminar as Pete pointed out is to discuss, interact and determine, “What is our responsibility for our clients?” as well as how we can- ensure such data collected through passive means is done so in proper manner, presented in proper manner and that we do not misrepresent the views of the consumer.

Issues such as personal data, informed consent, third-party disclosure and anonymised data are at the forefront of these discussions and the use of these methods may indeed require us to re-evaluate how we interact with our respondents and clients in the future.

Homes that can talk
The first presentation provided insight into how passive measurement may enter into our homes and daily lives. It provided an interesting view on how we, as researchers, can interact with people in their homes. How do we usually interact with folks in their homes?  Knock on doors, give them a call or through an online survey or maybe even get them to keep a diary. Sound techniques for sure, but according to AJ Johnson, Director of Innovation Technology from BrainJuicer, the use of passive measurement gives us a new “in” on gathering data.

As A.J. noted, we are poor witnesses to our own behaviour. We tend to rationalise our decisions, so by observing behaviour we are more likely to better understand decision making. Using examples such as an oven that takes photos to show you how done your dinner is, bracelets telling you how well you sleep, tracking of water use in your bathroom or even the use of sticker tags that tell you (via wifi) how many times your toilet is used, AJ illustrated how passive measurement can help us better understand how we live within our four walls.  Even a digital dog collar or feeding bowl can help us better understand how our four legged family members live too.

So we have the data, but what do we do with it? Thinking as an ethnographer, we can better understand how certain demographics may live their lives – just by gathering data through these technologies.  For example, females tend to spend more time in the bathroom – so is this a place for a digital mirror that also provides entertainment? Could we not use this data for better targeted advertising for when a family is more likely to be together in the living room or lounge?

Everything from wall plugs to smartphone apps to in-house cameras to Nike wristbands can help us track behaviour and better understand the consumer. Technology has become so integrated into many consumer lifestyles, so these methods are truly not deemed intrusive to most, but just part of the way they live their lives. Should we not make the collection of data through these means part of ours?

Mobile Moving Targets
Andrew Greenville led us through the rich possibilities of exploring, not just what people do with their mobiles, but where they go with them and the data that we can gather from this. Interestingly, Andrew noted that traffic engineers are the real experts on where people go and when. In their role, they capture very complex traffic data and, even as the experts are still in the early days of taming the data. It seems that our ability to learn from other disciplines is ever present.

So, even we when have managed to tame this data, the question arises – what do we do with it?  According to Andrew, while validity is of course an issue, the use of this data is important to not only researchers, but also to others outside the industry. For instance, the use of GPS to replace travel diaries with GPS data is of extreme interest to traffic engineers and the future of industries such as travel and leisure.

People, however, are hesitant to download research apps, which are generally needed to gather this type of data. Thus, surveillance can offer an alternative, albeit a somewhat controversial one. He recently surveyed UK respondents and asked them if they would download an app to allow various measurements of their lives.  The findings showed few were comfortable with allowing various forms of research into their lives – social media (11%), shopping habits (10%) travel habits (9%).  There were also similar responses from the US and Canada.  Additionally he found that those who do agree to surveillance are likely to be heavily involved in social media, open to surveillance in general and tend to be “watchers” as well – check on other’s details on social media with out them knowing. They also tend to be younger and male.

In the future, more accurate GPS will provide more accurate use of spatial data for things like retail and GPS could be used on mobiles for better out-of-home measurement.  We should also remember that passive measurement should not just be used for consumer research but to aid our society and citizens for things like air quality, health or services. If we use these methods for helping society, we may find a better response and agreement for its use for commercial purposes as well.

To pick or not to pick the product
Lluis Martinez Ribes, of ESADE Business School helped us to better understand the use of passive methods in retail. We must start with data collection, evaluate why an action happens and then try to understand the meaning behind it. Passive methods can be used to achieve various business aims, the first being to increase productivity and how retailers manage their shops. In this instance the focus is on how a shop uses resources and thus the focus is on capturing operational retail data. Another aim is to increase sales – and thus explore the shopper experience (idea of fascination and wow moments) and to avoid inconvenience. Thus we should not always focus on the positive, as the  goal is to keep shoppers involved and happy in store.

A final business aim is for loyalty  – which in financial terms means sustained cash flow.  This brings the focus on reducing inconveniences versus satisfaction – a good distinction to make.

It is good to remember that in retail time is not measured by a watch, but by perception. Shelves should have dialogue with customers and retailers must detect efforts to increase sales and customer loyalty in the everyday shopper experience.  Through the use of combined methodologies – passive, non-conscious methods and active /direct engagement, as well as the merger of other data i.e. from accounting, government agencies, etc..  – researchers can indeed provide new solutions and emerge from potential silos.

Now that I’ve got it, what the hell do I do with it?
Neil McPhee opened the second session of the morning with a frank discussion on BIG Data and clients and their changing requirements.

We all know that clients want speed, low cost and what is often considered “ready to wear” research.  So, the big question is … whatever happened to quality?  As a Qualie, Neil believes that good research does take time and that we should be sure to let the client know this regardless of the type of research we are doing – social media, netnography etc… We must be critical of the value big data can make to our industry as it often remains meaningless and without explanation. Unless your client just wants huge amounts of raw data, accumulating vast amounts of information that is not synthesised benefits no one.

Ethics implore us to use our talents within the professional standards of our industry. This means telling clients what they should be doing for “best practice”, when they are wrong and not just selling  a quick, cheap solution, as these things reflects on us as an industry as a whole. Neil’s basic premise for clients is: -more data = less clarity and more analysis = more clarity.

We must give real interpretations of data, of linguistics phrases and deliver more and true insights. Passive research should not just be about reporting phrases, but really determining and decoding what the language means.

Artificial Intelligence to Capture Consumers Interest
Nuria Agell opened her discussion with a reminder to us all that artificial intelligence (AI) is not just about robots as the movies would have us believe. In reality, it means having a machine performing tasks that would require intelligence when performed by a human such as problem resolution, learning, communication or multi-tasking.

So, how can AI truly reproduce the knowledge of an expert. Using a chocolate company case study – the ESADE Business School explored how a chocolatier could use a machine to find new combinations of fruit and chocolates for consumers.  They employed AI by first going through a  process of knowledge gathering (interviewing the client on combinations and his opinions on more than 50 fruits)  and then prepping the machines with his input as well as things like the chemical features of the fruits. They then asked the machine to give recommendations for creation for fruit/dark chocolate combinations. The recommendations were then reviewed by a group of experts and a concept product was developed. The idea was reviewed and the product was made and will be launched in September.

View the video to learn more –

Applications of Consumer Neuroscience
Why do we use consumer neuroscience?  Tim Harvey believes it is to catch the data people can’t answer or don’t know.  Neuroscience is used to work from the sea floor up and delve deep into subconscious decisions that drive survival.

Of course, neuroscience is not a panacea. It doesn’t always allow researchers to drill down into the data, but is here to add to MR and not replace it. It should be used to round out the picture and provide a more comprehensive view of data.

Tim highlighted a case study which showed that 76% of purchase decisions were made in store (a number which seems to be increasing over time) and that 66% of the time when people grab a product, they purchase it. He also found that the correlation between what shoppers plan on purchasing and the final register receipt was only 0.2%.

So what does this mean for a client? By being able to know what products produce positive emotional valence, retailers can truly affect revenue growth. Overall, by adding neuroscience to the mix, researchers can likely establish better shopper segmentation and categorisaton as well as for product categories.

What drives French women to buy shoes?
Arno Hummerston of Nurago, took us through an exploration of what drives French women, arguably the most fashionable and fashion-conscious women in the world, to purchase shoes. They recruited women who were heavy buyers of shoes, i.e. women who purchase at least 6 pairs of shoes per year (seems fairly nominal to me, but then again they’d probably classify me as a super user!) and who spent a lot on their shoe purchases and asked them to download an app which tracks their online behaviour (with informed consent of course).

What Nurago found was that the French women recruited spent 1/15 of their time researching shoes on the internet.  Imagine, spending so much time researching clothing!  However, they found that this time share was linked to a very direct action and was very sales focused.

They discovered that, in general, more women used brand sites than retail sites,  with the same going for search terms –  i.e. brand sites winning out again. They also managed to segment behaviour around visits to brand sites and found that internet searches drive traffic to brand sites and that, surprisingly, brand sites drive a fair amount of traffic to Facebook.

So it’s good to remember that while retailer sites are making the sales, they do not necessarily provide the best information point. Finding your balance is key here for reaching the consumer.

Key takeaways from the study were: relying on recall can over or under represent actions; passive measurement gives more detail, which can drive efficient marketing and media planning and lastly, and maybe most importantly, it’s good to remember that not everyone uses the internet in the same manner. Remember, it’s not about you and how you, personally, use the internet, but how customers and consumers do.

Social Data
Jed Hallum then took us into the world of social data and the idea of the world’s biggest focus group. People are terrified of social data – but how does this apply to business?  We are what we share – i.e. what we send out on networks is a representation of who we are. However, we share ALOT, so how do we sift through this and what should we do with it all – the question of the day.

With the immense amounts of data, Jed believes the role of ad agencies and marketers is to make things people want and not want things.  This means that social data should be used to augment traditional research to improve products, services, reach and satisfaction.

He also sees a great need for a data officer – to help sift through the tremendous amounts of data to determine the best info for the departments within and outside the organisation. This is key for internal information dissemination as well as external, as social platforms give us more data points from a single network than most people would ever give to a business directly.  Being able to handle this information can determine failure or success.

He noted that passive data is raw and direct from the market and is arguably the world’s biggest focus group. And as technology is fairly ubiquitous these days – the potential is huge.

However,  he cautioned that context is still key and provided a great example of this with a client who received 30 complaints on Facebook after tweaking a product.  With over 500,000 units going out a day, the true impact of 30 complaints was small in the grander scheme of things.  However, the public face of social media can sometimes make us feel that its more dangerous than it is. We still have quite a bit to learn in this social sphere.

Doing Research without Asking Questions
Connecting with consumers in the social media sphere is something that InSites Consulting has been doing for some time now and as Sophie Van Neck noted, that with over 85O million Facebook users and over 60 hours of video material uploaded to Youtube each hour – there is indeed a huge amount of data that can be worked with.

So the question may not be “why do social media research” but “why not?”. Sophie pointed out that social media research reduces interviewing bias, helps to gain new insights and to better understand context in data. A great example is a website review which can provide real insight into the consumer experience, allowing for colourful references and anecdotal explanation.

The use of social media research can also allow a client into a moment in time, revealing true emotional insights (i.e. heat of the moment insights  – angry tweets). Additionally, it can be used to track long-term periods, thereby giving your client a more-long term view of the impact of data.

Overall, Sophie believes that any social data collected must be embedded into the full research frame and when using it certain pitfalls should be noted.

When it comes to representativeness, social media research is not like traditional MR. It is good to recognise that conversations are the new unit of analysis – versus linking to specific people. Sampling is still key.  With over 350 million tweets a day, it is important to take into account the types of conversations you want to look at. Although convenience sampling is handy, remember that additional data may be needed to supplement information from panel providers and finally, it is good to be goal oriented.  You need to know what you want to get out of this type of research, i.e. have a goal for innovation, to derive new insights or just to get new ones.

Social media research can be used to discover or for pure measurement, but should always be a supplement to traditional MR, not a replacement.

Ethics and the Future of Passive Methods
The final session provided a panel discussion to review the ethics and future of passive methods.  On the panel were Adam Phillips, Chair of the ESOMAR Professional Standards and Ethics Committees; Robert Bond, Head of the Information Law Group, Speechly Bircham LLP; Bart Nauta, Managing Director TNS-NIPO, Netherlands and Norbert Wirth, Global Head of Innovation and Digital, Gfk CE, UK.

While the need for ethics has been an integral part of ESOMAR from it’s founding, the ICC/ESOMAR Code has evolved over time to ensure respondents that researchers could be trusted with their personal data. The introduction of passive methods has added a new layer to the Code and professional guidelines developed by ESOMAR.  These adaptations help keep the standards relevant and applicable and enable today’s researchers to continue to abide by law and maintain public trust as technology develops.

When looking at the observational space, this often opens the question of whether we even need to ask for respondent’s permission since it is so easy to gather data with new technology – mobiles, internet, etc – without doing so, and seemingly without causing harm.

According to the panel, the answer is definitely yes.  Transparency and honesty is key when employing these methods and as Adam Phillips noted, just because you are in the public space does not mean you can avoid getting consent. It seems that with the passage of privacy laws and directives, it may leave little room for discussion in this area.

Key points that stood out from the discussion included

  • Always treat respondents with respect. It is a privilege to get to ask them questions in the way we do and this must be protected to ensure continued faith and support for what our industry does.
  • Be sensitive to public concerns about data being held. Remember the law is making consumers more savvy about their rights, and they have much more access to information about their privacy rights, things such as  including the right to be forgotten.
  • Be careful to distinguish MR form other commercial activities. This is getting more difficult and the broader footprint of what MR is continues to grow and the players continue to change.  This will become even harder as more and more business activities seemingly fall outside of the scope of the traditional MR definitions.
  • The panel agreed with Jed Hallum’s earlier call for Data Officers within companies and believed that there will be a rise in the number of Chief Data Officer and that changes in law will make it happen in short order.
  • It will be critical to understand your role legally and know the difference between whether you are a controller or data processor, as this may determine if you must apply the law and ethics or just the work within an ethics-only framework.
  • Certification, such as in the legal profession through continuing education, seemed to be a solution for some, to help raise awareness of MR as an industry of professionals working within an ethical framework.
  • Finally, ESOMAR President, Dieter Korczak, urged delegates to follow remember the doctor’s oath of “do no harm” and to realise that the general principle goes for researchers too. Respect for a respondent’s privacy and dignity is key and to remember that in the end it boils down to trust.  We don’t want to end up like the banks.

Erika Harriford-McLaren is Strategic and Corporate Communications Manager at ESOMAR