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How new technologies are challenging the insight industry and the new considerations for their implementation

The juggernaut of new technologies for the market research industry marches on.  We are now on the cusp of new AR and VR technologies starting to be part of project practise.  They offer new ways of testing that were previously unimaginable. But are they worth getting excited about and how relevant are they really for research right now?

With the onset of online platforms, we observed a shift away from the more traditional.  There was great excitement around getting a peep into consumers’ daily lives in an accessible way for both researchers and client insight teams.  ‘Remote’ became the operating mantra for many organisations and indeed for many still is.

By contrast some insight managers decry the value of social media analysis as it only produces ‘face value’ responses without getting to the real nub of why.

Useful or just hype?

So where is the industry in the adoption curve of new technologies?  The Gartner Hype Cycle identifies how far advanced we are in terms of adopting them.  The curve has a number of phases from ‘innovation trigger’ as technologies emerge to ‘peak of inflated expectations’ where hopes for the new technologies reach their highest and often unrealistic point.

Disillusionment then sets in followed by a period of ‘scope of enlightenment’ as the value of these new technologies is recognised.  The silver bullet is as each technology reaches a ‘plateau of productivity’ where this value is finally realised.

My perspective is we are starting to enter the era of ‘plateau of productivity’ for online tools.  Online surveys got there a long time ago but for qualitative, online diaries and mobile apps have now also reached the plateau.  They have finally found their right place and role in our toolkit.

VR and AR some way behind

Last year Gartner identified Virtual Reality as reaching the enlightenment phase in 2-5 years’  time with Augmented Reality lagging behind.  It does seem this applies to the use of these two technologies for the insight industry too. Clearly they have relevance for testing physical spaces such as retail, wayfinding projects for open spaces such as galleries and testing product interiors e.g. cars.

New considerations posed for insight practitioners

However, they also pose an interesting dilemma.  Having attended an event to personally test out VR and AR products, I was suddenly aware of a new challenge – ease and familiarity of use.  I confess to not being an avid gamer, so the manual controls did present a few dexterity challenges.

The sheer 3D nature of the environment takes a while to adjust to.  At first the experience is daunting, and the developers recommend a first time use of a few minutes.  Yet then it becomes fascinating as you explore the globe and can easily travel from the port of Hamburg to the bay of San Francisco.

This highlights the need to take user familiarity into account for whatever new technology approach we are implementing.  And also isolate the ‘wow factor’ from the response to avoid an inflated read of appeal.

The industry view

A quick straw poll of a few insight and brand practitioners suggested VR is hardly being used currently.  When it is, there tends to be a ‘placebo’ test where half of the sample are taken through the more traditional stimulus material approach of physical mock ups.

Or maybe we have been using virtual reality all along with traditional stimulus?  David Gill, an eminent London art gallery owner suggested he had worked with virtual reality some time ago – by projecting slides onto his ceiling.  A different and interesting take on what is virtual!