Some firms like Price Waterhouse Coopers have divisions that specialize in social media. Allegiance has published white papers on the economics of building customer loyalty through social media and software companies like SPSS have partnered with IBM to create data mining programs that utilize social media data. Even though social media data are plentiful, they are not the whole story of technology and marketing research. This column will cover social media as well as other technological developments affecting marketing research.

The Wall Street Journal says Web sites for large U.S. corporations are extraordinarily intrusive in gathering data on customers visiting their Web site. There are tracking specialists who created a new business model and industry selling both customer data and predictions about what customers will do. Predictive Analytics uses tracking data in real time to forecast consumer choices and has spawned a highly specialized MBA program at Northwestern University. Customer online tracking represents a new type of marketing research activity.

In a survey about Web tracking technologies, the Wall Street Journal asked about privacy. The question, “How concerned are you about advertisers and companies tracking your behavior across the Web?” was asked of 14,632 Internet users.  The results:

59.7 percent Very concerned [8,741]

25 percent Somewhat concerned [3,662]

3.7 percent Neutral [546]

7 percent Not a Big Worry [1,031]

4.5 percent Could Not Care Less [652]

With 85 percent responding either somewhat or very concerned about tracking, the unregulated nature of this activity will probably not last a long time unless a professional organization like the Marketing Research Association can supply some guidelines. As the Wall Street Journal study authors asks the audience, “Are we giving away too much personal data about ourselves, that is then sold to advertisers, in exchange for the convenience of having sites remember our passwords? What is lost and what is gained by the technology?”

Applications of technology related to neuroscience, telepresence, eye tracking, and implicit association analysis will also affect marketing research going forward. For example, clients have used telepresence to reach dispersed and difficult to reach respondents. There is a network of public telepresence locations in at least 30 cities around the world. Each location has three 1080 HD video screens in a semi-circle that creates the impression of an identical room at the receiving end. With voice-activated video plus audio, simultaneously shared laptop screens, and infrastructure to conference many locations simultaneously, technology creates a remote participation environment. Viewers can see six people at a time on the three screens allowing for focus groups to be conducted using multiple locations. 

A problem in data mining of social media activity, is that it does not answer the question of why? The motivation question about brand identity and why one brand has a stronger identity than another still needs an answer. Neuroscience has recently been used to answer marketing research questions in a way that conventional methods and social media cannot. Where books like, Wisdom of the Crowd relate to social media, a book like, Buy-ology, makes strong claims about neuroscience as a new paradigm in motivational research. 

Implicit association measurement is indirect. For example, reaction times or accuracy on completing tasks are used as indirect measures of the motivational power of logos or brand names. Eye tracking has been around since the 1990’s. I was involved in using eye tracking to measure how ad elements are perceived, retained and recalled when pharmaceutical companies started direct to consumer advertising. Over the years eye tracking has become simplified, less expensive, and more accepted in marketing. Eye tracking is typically used to explain how advertising is processed or to determine how consumers process packaging in stores. What is overlooked has no impact on brand identity. Neuroscience is measuring brain waves and other biometric measures like temperature, blinking, breathing, and pulse.  The neuroscience methods currently available include brain wave measurements, eye tracking and implicit association measurement. It is used to assess reactions to brands, logos and experiences on a continuous basis. This approach is useful for ferreting out very positive or negative brand elements. The element eliciting those reactions can be pinpointed and better understood.

Predictive analytics, neuroscience, eye tracking, association measurement, and other technology driven methods will never replace talking to respondents to understand what they believe, think and feel when exposed to brands, logos or other creative elements including Web pages online.