Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Hacking H(app)iness Reveals Quantified (Whole) Self

Consumer Devices and Apps May Unlock Door to Measuring Unconscious Emotions

By Marc Dresner, IIR

John Havens is on to something that marketers and consumer researchers should pay close attention to, because the implications for insights work are huge.

This trend gets to the very essence of consumer intelligence and it may be the wave of the future...only it's happening now.
John Havens

The research isn’t being conducted by consumer researchers; this research is being conducted by consumers, themselves, for themselves.

Havens—author of “Hacking H(app)iness: Why Your Personal Data Counts and How Tracking it Can Change the World” and founder of the H(app)athon Project--is on a mission to help people objectively take stock of their lives using data they collect about themselves, and to then adjust their behaviors, lifestyles and priorities according to what those data tell them.

“Hacking H(app)iness involves using the devices and technologies we interact with every day to track, understand and optimize every aspect of our lives”

“Hacking H(app)iness involves using the devices and technologies around us that we interact with every day to track, understand and optimize every aspect of our lives,” Havens said.

“We don’t always know how we are feeling,” Havens remarked. 

“The data we can collect about ourselves on our smartphones, using apps and through other devices can serve as a proxy for our emotions and help us to improve our overall ‘wellbeing’ and quality of life,” he added.

“We don’t always know how we are feeling…Data we can collect about ourselves on smartphones using apps can serve as a proxy for our emotions.”

It’s based on the science of positive psychology. After all, Havens is about hacking happiness, not misery—a thoroughly noble pursuit to be sure.

But after conducting an interview with Havens for the Research Insighter podcast series, yours truly has honestly been preoccupied with the potential applications and implications for consumer researchers.

So I hope you’ll  forgive me if I focus less attention than I should on the potential benefit to mankind and more on the possibility that consumers may figure out a way to harness Big Data before those of us in marketing do.

Self Improvement...Gamified?

You’re probably familiar with the “Quantified Self” movement taking the healthcare and wellness industries by storm.

It’s generally associated with using sensor technology in smartphones and wearable devices (think Fitbit) to track and analyze physiological and other health-related data: heart rate, blood pressure, exercise, etc.

Now, “quantified selfies” will tell you that monitoring one’s own blood pressure, pulse and the like barely scratches the surface of the quantified self movement.

And they’re right.

The Quantified Self movement is in many respects the gamification of self improvement.

In many respects, the Quantified Self movement this is the gamification of self improvement.

Some devotees—there are clubs of them sprouting up all over (New York has a “chapter”)—monitor their cognitive functioning, blood oxygen levels—even the quality of the very air in the room they’re breathing.

And they don’t stop there.

Want to know how well you sleep at night? You need not necessarily spend a night in a medical sleep center; you can do it yourself at home in your own bed without a bunch of clinicians watching you thrash around in your sheets from behind glass.

Not all of these data are passively collected.

What you ate for lunch, for example, and its nutritional content needs to be manually entered, but that’ll get easier fast. (Watch for barcodes next to menu items in restaurants that can be scanned to your smartphone to track your diet.)

Technology that was only accessible to healthcare professionals, the military, law enforcement, etc., is now becoming commercially available to everyday consumers.

The point is that much of this, Havens points out, is possible because technology that was until recently only accessible to healthcare professionals, the military, law enforcement, etc., is now becoming commercially available to everyday consumers.

For example, he noted there’s an app available for download that accurately reads your heart rate by just pointing your smartphone’s camera at your face.

“These devices don’t even have to be touching us to collect this data,” Havens emphasized.

This type of stuff was formerly the domain of agents scoping out potential terrorists in airports.

And there are other equally sophisticated, albeit less sexy data collection technologies that are also making their way into the hands of everyday folks.

DIY online tracking? The data collection and analytics tools marketers use are making their way into the hands of average folks.

I’m talking about the data collection and analytics tools marketers use.

Think do-it-yourself online tracking—the activity, time spent, sites visited, Google searches, etc.

What could this information tell us about ourselves?

I recently attended IIR’s Media Insights and Engagement conference—a sister event to the Future of Consumer Intelligence, which sponsors this blog—and I can tell you media researchers are quite keen on getting at cross-platform media consumption data (not just programming content, but social and any other "media," too—all of it).

Meanwhile, Havens in his book proposes that you and I—wearing our Joe Consumer hats—might benefit from looking at how much time we spend playing Candy Crush, streaming YouTube videos, Facebooking, listening to MP3s, bidding on eBay auctions, etc.

Now where am I going to get that data?

My smartphone, my tablet, my desktop computer...Eureka!

So what would I do with this information?

H(app)iness hacking is like looking at a monthly credit card statement...You can see what you truly value based on where you spent your money.

Havens compares it to looking at one’s monthly credit card statement (something else I happen to have access to, coincidentally).

“With a credit card statement, you can see what you truly value because there is a list of what you put your money toward in the past month,” he told the Research Insighter.

Similarly, you know you really like music if you see that you’ve downloaded a ton of it.

Or maybe it’s a lot of pornography that you’ve been downloading?

That’s where the positive change comes into play.

“If you ask someone what really matters to them in life, they’ll tell you things like family time,” said Havens.

“But what if you had objective data about how you live your life? If you could track the things that you claim—that you believe—are important to you?” he asked.

If you could track the things that you believe are important to you, on paper the actual data might suggest otherwise.

“We might find that actually, according to the data, we don’t really value those things—at least that’s how it looks on paper. And we can make a change,” Havens said.

I’m not going to suggest that this stuff is going to make online surveys look primitive, like leaching…but you must admit Havens has a point.

Self-reported behavior isn’t bullet proof. 

And self-reported feelings? 

So much attention and investment is being devoted to unlocking the unconscious emotional motivations that drive consumer behavior in the research community for good reason.

“My hope is that these tools will allow people the opportunity to improve their wellbeing by making decisions based on real data, knowing things about themselves that they might not otherwise be aware of,” said Havens.

Now tell me the research community shouldn’t pay attention to this.

And click these links to check out John Havens' book, “Hacking H(app)iness,” and to learn more about the H(app)athon Project.

Editor’s note: John Havens will deliver a keynote titled, “Hacking Happiness: How to Give Big Data a Direction” at the Future of Consumer Intelligence conference taking place May 19-21 in San Francisco.

As a reader of this blog you will SAVE 15% on your registration to attend the Future of Consumer Intelligence when you use code FOCI14BLOG.  Register here today!

For more information, please visit

Marc Dresner is IIR USA’s sr. editor and special communication project lead. He is the former executive editor of Research Business Report, a confidential newsletter for the marketing research and consumer insights industry. He may be reached at Follow him @mdrezz.

No comments: