Report from the MR Innovation Frontlines: IIeX North America
Insight Innovation Exchange North America 2014 took place in Atlanta June 16 through June 18. This was one in a series of iiex events that are being presented around the world by Greenbook and Gen2 Advisors. So far this year there have been events in Amsterdam and Santiago and one is scheduled for Sydney in December.
As market research conferences go, iiex-na was impressive. There were about 650 attendees and a packed three-day schedule with well over 100 different individual speakers and panelists. Most presentations were limited to 20-minute time slots, encouraging a TED-like exchange of ideas (of course, market researchers being market researchers, not all presenters have mastered that format).
The organizers have done a pretty good job of creating a showcase for innovation in market research. This is one event where the content appeared to be mostly fresh rather than recycled and it provides a view of where clients, research agencies, and supporting services are focusing their innovation efforts. Here are some of the key trends that were represented at the conference.
Behavioral Economics/Behavioral Science
Several presentations riffed on the “new” discipline of behavioral economics (Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow might have been the most-often cited book at the conference). The underlying idea in these talks is that people mostly use “fast” thinking, quickly processing the least amount of information required to apply a heuristic and reach a decision. The bulk of market research, on the other hand, assumes (and more or less requires) that people engage in slow (rational and deliberative) thinking when they make brand and product decisions. However, many of the behavioral economics focused presentations addressed how to use behavioral economics principles to change consumer behavior rather than how to change the ways we generate insights. That is, apart from trying to better capture the impact of emotion and unconscious processes, which was the topic of several behavioral science-focused talks. New technologies for recognizing emotion include analysis of facial expressions and voice analytics. In a project that reflects the kind of thing the organizers seem to favor, Beyond Verbal captured conversations at the conference (by walking around with iPhones) and then shared their analysis of these conversations in a presentation. The most prevalent “moods” at the conference were “enthusiastic” and “creative.” Given the data capture method, however, one has to consider that the sample conversations may not be truly representative of the emotions experienced at the conference.
The distinction between “neuroscience” and “behavioral science” is fuzzy, at least in market research, and I’m being somewhat arbitrary in calling some topics one versus the other. USC neurobiologist Antonio Damasio was invoked almost as often as Daniel Kahneman. Damasio’s somatic marker hypothesis about the way in which the neurobiological underpinnings of emotion play in decision-making seems a natural fit for marketing. Approaches to tapping into neurobiological processes shared at the conference included eye tracking and biometrics like galvanic skin response.
A panel discussion and a few talks were devoted to virtual or immersive reality. Kyle Nel, director at Lowe’s Innovation Lab (and quite possibly the coolest job a market researcher could have) described the development of Lowe’s “Holoroom” (a terrestrial version of Star Trek’s “holodeck”). The Holoroom is a life-sized virtual reality simulator that allows homeowners to visualize a home improvement project.
Even cooler than the “Holoroom” concept was the immersive reality experience provided by LRW. LRW created a simulated walk on a narrow plank over a 60-foot deep pit. There were two types of attendees at the conference—those who had crossed the pit and those who had not. One person who did not cross the pit said that she was “virtually” paralyzed—she found it almost impossible to move her feet; they felt incredibly heavy. In the experience, the visual inputs overwhelm other competing senses. Even though you can feel the carpet under your feet and you hear the voice of someone standing right next to you (not 30 feet below you on the rim of the pit) you just cannot shake the feeling that you are suspended high above the floor. With some yoga breathing and conscious balancing I was able to cross the plank and—as the finale—jump off into the pit—but only by taking little steps!
Data visualization topics fell into two groups—those that focused on applications software and platforms for creating visualizations from data, and those that focused on the cognitive aspects of data visualization. The best of these was by Tim Bock (of Q) and titled “Mountains, Bird Brains and the 5 Second Rule: Creating Ugly but Good Visualizations.” Bock described some of the ways our visual information processing has evolved. We’re really good a perceiving mountains (e.g., line charts) for example, and not so good at deciphering skylines (e.g., column bar charts). Good data visualization is all about exploiting our visual information processing capabilities to make the story in the data quickly accessible.
The Usual Suspects
There were plenty of examples of what are turning into the “usual suspects” in market research innovation—mobile data capture, predictive analytics and big data, social media—at this conference. One of the more interesting examples was presented by AYTM—a company I had not heard of before this event. They offer a do-it-yourself big data and predictive analytics service. This will be something to watch.
Bottom line? The organizers put it best: “This event is fast-paced, jam-packed with brand new content, and full of opportunities to collaborate.”
Full disclosure: I was one of the presenters at iiex-na. I’ll share the main themes of my talk in a follow-up to this post.
– David Bakken, PhD, Chief Insight Officer