Will Artificial Intelligence Open a Space for Even Greater Humanity in the Insights Industry?

I was at the EphMRA (European Pharmaceutical Market Research Association) conference in Warsaw, 25-27 June 2019, and what really struck me was the focus on AI – mainly the positive potential it offers, but also the significant FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) it evokes due to the changes it heralds.

But, I am sure you are thinking, this is not news.

I guess what is increasingly evident is that AI has taken great leaps forward in recent years and we are already surrounded by it in our daily lives (“Alexa where’s my Siri?”).

The potential applications for the insights community are significant, from predictive targeting of respondents (why screen by asking questions when AI can parse the entire panel and find the best fitting respondents?), to replacing the need for human moderation via, for example, advanced chatbot surveys, or via Alexa-style survey interactions. Plus of course, the wealth of applications for pattern recognition in large data sets, facial coding, sentiment analysis and so on.

So where does this leave humans? – and indeed insights professionals?

My hope is that AI will be the spark that brings greater humanity to insights and business more widely.

Clients and insights agencies will need to work in closer collaboration to agree analysis strategies on how to deploy AI and to synthesise and make sense of the ‘rivers’ of data flowing into companies, to drive better business outcomes.

We need to become better storytellers, rediscovering and elevating one the most basic and oldest pillars of the human story. Storytelling is millennia old (the Lascaux Caves, in the Pyrenees Mountains in France, contain stories told as cave paintings dating back 17000 years), and we all remember stories we first heard as small children (one of the first I remember is ‘Where The Wild Things Are’ by Maurice Sendak).

Waving not drowning, inspiring not telling

The art of storytelling will become even more critical – to communicate insights from the information unlocked by AI, and to drive action.

I believe that AI will empower us and give us space to focus on uniquely human skillsets, such as lateral and creative thinking, empathy, emotion and communicating with passion. This was something that applied futurist Tom Cheesewright suggested in the final session of the conference with the image below.

© Tom Cheesewright

Let’s face it who doesn’t want a helping hand?

Patients (and Doctors) Are People Too

I attended a great conference the other day – the MRS Consumer Health and Wellbeing Conference. I was expecting to be baffled by lots of technical jargon and impenetrable specialist content – but, instead, was struck by how the key themes were relevant to all of us in our modern lives, whether we are consumers, patients, healthcare professionals… or even insights specialists like myself!

It brought home to me how humankind is undergoing huge societal shifts that are impacting us all with ever increasing intensity.

Unsurprisingly, a key theme was the enabling power of technology. It is driving fundamental changes in how we access the information we need to make informed choices and decisions. It’s changing how we share our stories and our lives, and how we support each other. It allows us to track our activities (I’m a fitbit user and also use mapmyrun.com to keep track of my exercise); there is even an app to help people cut down on their alcohol intake and, amazingly, to help people proactively manage their cancer journey.

If we overlay major demographic changes such as an ageing population in the West, we have a complex mix of change driving our lives. And the faster the fundamental fabric of life changes, the more important it is for organisations to talk (and listen) regularly with their end-users. Whether we think of them as consumers, users, patients or physicians they are all facing a complex array of decisions and choices, some rational, and many more intuitive and emotional.

I was really encouraged by the people-centricity of the organisations who presented. They are facing up to the changes, and realise that the only way to stay relevant is by actively engaging with the people that matter to their organisations… and doing it early, and often.

It seems to me that market research is performing an important role and has a healthy future ahead of it (pun intended).

Read My Lips! And Eyes! And…

Affectiva, a pioneer in emotional recognition software, seems to be everywhere lately – from discussions in my office about new MR techniques, to a recent article in Wired. Their Affdex technology views a respondent’s face and can read what emotions are being expressed. The technology itself is impressive, but it leads me to the question: which of my devices will read my emotions, and what will they give me in return?

Affectiva recently offered a 45-day free trial to developers who want to experiment with their API – which got me thinking… what are some apps or devices I would want to read my face/emotions? I’m not a developer (just a dreamer) so here is my short list:


  1. Apple TV / Roku – Could the device please pause my show when I inevitably doze off while catching up with my shows on Sunday evening?
  2. eCommerce sites (Amazon, Gilt, etc.) – While I shop, can you tell which items I react positively to, and tailor my experience like a virtual personal shopper?
  3. Dating sites – maybe Tinder can tell exactly how you feel about a potential match, so you don’t have to keep swiping left/right? Perhaps you would find different matches based on your initial emotional response, which you may not even be aware of.


What about the rest of you – any other ideas for places you do (or maybe don’t!) want to have your face/emotions read?

Read the full post here on The Market Research Event blog.

Stay Nimble, My Friend

Innovate or die. That’s been the business rallying cry… but I think there’s something missing there. Innovate FAST or die. As consumers we have been conditioned to expect bigger, better, over and over. Companies have created a relentless pressure cooker for themselves. Ideating, developing and delivering new products to market faster and faster is the order of the day. But we also know the stats – anywhere from 50-80% of new products fail. How can one quickly separate the winning ideas from the dogs? So, one can’t just be innovative – one must be astutely nimble too. When it comes to insights, we are not immune from the pressure. This is especially true here at BuzzBack. We are perennially curious about new technology and how it can be exploited and deployed to our industry’s advantage. We embrace disruption – it keeps us agile and creative. Lately this idea of harnessing technology to help our clients be smarter, nimble innovators has been keeping us up at night.

We want to see more brands experience wins like last year’s introduction of Honey Bunches of Oats Greek Yogurt – a product that went from a passing comment to home run launch at unheard of speed. How might we help inspire more success stories like this while mitigating the risk that often comes with moving faster than market insights can keep up? So we’ve been developing our own new concept to help clients expedite how they create, evolve, refine and advance ideas with consumer input, all while increasing the likelihood of marketplace success. Watch this space for more news about it, and details on how it works.

To Piggyback Or Not To Piggyback?

Lately, I’ve been noticing a trend in market research — implementation of social media platforms such as Pinterest to conduct qualitative research online. It’s been highlighted in this Quirks article, but I’ve also come across this topic in other online MR conversations. I see how this seems easy, useful, and innovative to some, but I worry that it’s a bit shortsighted.

While I wholeheartedly agree that researchers need to reach and interact with respondents in ways applicable to what they do online and also find the use of imagery in research powerful I see issues with just turning to a social media platform as a research tool. For one, this type of integration between a social media platform and research is time consuming and only seems to work on a few people at a time. The researcher needs to train each respondent on the platform so they are correctly pinning images. Also, the respondent then needs to go out and find each image which can potentially result in them not thinking broadly enough about the topic or even becoming distracted from the task. Many Pinners know how tempting it can be to continue clicking through links!  But even more importantly, this does not allow us to engage a higher number of respondents, apply certain analytics or control for bias.

Using technologies not intended for research purposes tends to leave a lot of opportunity on the table. I think research should invest more in developing its own technologies keeping methodologies and best practices in mind.

The Mobile Paradox

I recently read a great article in Quirks about the four stages of mobile readiness. There is a lot of talk about compatibility and layout of the survey since it obviously would be incredibly difficult for me to answer a grid question with  a 10-point scale on my iPhone. But I think what was more important, and nice to see mentioned, is the idea that the content of the survey itself may have to change. A grid question might be something your client has used in all their past surveys, and they are concerned about maintaining their norms database. If that is the case, you may ask yourself what is more important to me? The norms, or delivering this survey on a mobile device? I’m sure there are situations in which either one of these could be the correct answer.

I think also interesting to point out is that we have to be considerate of mobile technology’s limitations. Computing was on a trajectory of getting more complex, with multimedia and interactive experiences being delivered at higher and higher speeds. However, on a mobile device, you are limited by compatibility (think about all those flash-based tools that you can’t use) and connectivity (will your respondent always have a strong, fast connection?). In other words, as we get more advanced on mobile, we may actually be forced to simplify our surveys in order to ensure delivery. While at first that strikes me as quite the paradox, having to simplify things to keep up with advancing technology, it really is following the trend. These days people want simple. I can’t really change much about my iPhone, but that is precisely why I like it (I’m sure my Android users out there are scoffing). Everyone is moving toward simplicity; fewer bells and whistles in favor of functionality and ease of use. Do you think it is time for online MR to take the same path?