Human after all…

20th March 2017 15:32

Human after all…

This blog was written by Elliot Simmonds, Research Consultant

It seems like wherever we go today, the world is talking about automation and technology. Big data. Data mining. In the moment feedback. Data warehousing.  This is all fair and well, and as I’ve said elsewhere previously, in general these approaches simply mean that the research industry has to focus on the insight; with data being ubiquitous and increasingly simple to obtain, it’s the stories that matter more and more.Market research blog: Human after all

Still, there is a risk that among all the data and statistics, segmentations and KPIs, we forget that those data points represent an individual. An interaction. An experience. An opinion. A problem. A source of inspiration…?

Commentary on the research industry over the recent past has, to a degree, reminded me of the song Human After All by the brilliant French duo, Daft Punk. I actually wrote this in a café after coming out of a meeting with a client who had shown us an incredibly data heavy report provided by a previous supplier. Daft Punk came on via shuffle, and opposite me were three couples of varying ages. All six of them were on their phones. I was inspired.

If you don’t know the song, it’s essentially five and a bit minutes of a computerised voice saying "we’re all human". If the irony of that is lost on you then I’d leave now, there’s more ambiguous aphorisms where that came from.

It dawned on me that as a whole, in an industry so focussed on people, we’re at risk of not being able to see the wood for the trees or, for a fruit-based twist, the orange for the segments.[1]

You see the thing about an orange is that it’s not just made up of its constituent segments. There’s also the peel – the thing that brings all of those segments together and gives them context. “I am orange segment one; they are orange segments two to 10; we are Orange.”

There’s the little white bits between the segments, the pith. By virtue of being white, this is not Orange. But it is, isn’t it? At least a bit. Still, a lot of people throw away the pith.

If we take this back to the idea of segmentation – and I should say here, I’m not railing against segmentation, segmentation is great, and works for what it is supposed to do – but what it is supposed to do is provide groups of homogenous data points based on a number of characteristics. These are not groups of identical people, they are groups of people that are more similar to other people in the group and dissimilar to those outside the group, based on the characteristics which are known.

Now, people do not tend to identify themselves as a Thrifty Thirty when buying clothes, or a Culture Hawk, when visiting a museum. They see themselves as Janine, or Barrie. There was a fantastic headline in Business Insider recently which mentioned that Americans think robots will take everyone else’s job, but not their own.

As humans, we tend to be very good at putting other people in to boxes, but think of ourselves as being unique. Even saying "I’m an outside the box thinker" is now so resoundingly within the box that your CV will instantly find its way in to one, if those words appear. That that box is the bin is neither here nor there.

So if people think they’re the pith, but the data says they’re in a segment – what do we do?

In short, peel away the skin. Pull apart the segments. Touch the pith. Taste it.

The overarching theme here is that, whilst the inexorable move towards increased in the moment feedback, large scale data manipulation, modelling, segmentation and sentiment analysis is both warranted and useful in its own way, we exclude the individual, personal, sentimental, human side of market research at our peril.

We’ve talked about segmentation a lot here, and so the idea of pen portraits naturally comes to mind – who are the Culture Hawks, really? But there’s also the tried and tested techniques such as telephone interviewing (no joke, someone recently referred to this to me as ‘archaic’). The ability to actually speak to someone rather than have them fill in an online questionnaire, for example, can add so much value – a ‘satisfied’ on an online survey becomes: ‘well yes, I was satisfied in the end and the lady on the till was lovely, but to be honest I felt that if only they’d actually enforced the 9 items or less rule on that till, then it would have been much better for everyone. The gentleman behind me got really quite upset about it.’

Same code if you’re taking the data-point approach, but a totally different context, and a nice little bit of insight in to the shopper experience. People get wound up when others take the pith at the 9 items tills.

And who’s to blame them really? They’re only human, after all…

If you’re interested in hearing five and a bit minutes of repetitive yet innovative electronic music you can do so here:

[1] I did tell you.

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