Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Exclusive Interview: How Google is Disrupting Market Research with Technology

From the collection of data to the curation of insights, technology is disrupting market research at every turn. And, it's new technologies that are driving this significant change. Traditional research just isn’t enough anymore.  Brand new ways of working including lean product development, remote collaboration and accelerated cycles are requiring that look at research through a different lense. They are enabling us to gather insights in new and exciting ways, but also inundating us with myriad sources of data about users that needs to be synthesized.

Fortunately, this year the producers of The Market Research Event present InsighTech: Innovations in Research Methodology & Technology - an event that covers innovative new ways to deploy mainstream methodologies and presents emerging technology likely to disrupt the industry even further.

We recently sat down with our InsighTech keynote speaker and Google’s Head of Digital Transformation Joris Merks-Benujaminsen for an in-depth interview about how market research is being transformed and disrupted by new technology and how Google is participating in this transformation.

IIR: How is technology disrupting and transforming market research?

Joris: I believe the biggest disrupting factor in market research is the emergence of behavioral data. In performance marketing organizations you can already see people do a lot less market research because they rely on real-time optimization and A/B testing. This doesn’t mean the skills of market research companies are not useful to the type of questions these companies have. I believe research agencies can add a lot of value there like they do for instance in brand building organizations.

Attribution modeling on consumer journey data is for instance something a lot of performance marketing companies struggle with. Research companies can be of help if they learn to work with the big consumer journey databases of their clients and if they can embed analysis outcomes in the real-time decision making tools that performance marketers use. Also, behavioral data is very good at delivering the ‘what’, but not so good in delivering the ‘why’. Questionnaire research and qualitative research can often add a layer of insight to A/B experiments and other behavioral insights. Again the art is embedding these insights in the real-time decision making tools rather than presenting findings to facilitate a one off decision.

IIR: How is Google specifically disrupting market research?

Joris: Google analytics in combination with full stack solutions like those of Doubleclick are likely to have most impact on the role of market research. The biggest limitation of behavioral data currently is the fact that it is shattered all over the place. Full stack solutions allow clients to bring data from many sources together in one system so they provide deeper insight in consumer journey and consumer behavior. The biggest opportunity here would be to help clients with that integration of data sources, help them create a structure of analysis and dashboarding to get the most useful insights out of these complex databases and finally add deeper layer of insight based on traditional research methods that can be utilized in the real-time interpretation of the behavioral data.


IIR: How do you sort through the current technology trends to uncover what will eventually change how you do business?

Joris: The reality is that the technical capabilities to support what you could call the ‘strategy of the future’ are already here now. So the main thing you need to do is look at the separate technical capabilities and put them together in one strategic puzzle and then estimate the sum of that puzzle. Full stack solutions for instance are already here and have most of the capabilities you need to bring the right advertising message to the right person across the full consumer journey. Despite that, most companies still use full stack solutions to get better CPA’s at the end of the funnel, or they use them to run big bulk deals at the earliest stage of the funnel. Strategies do not yet guide consumers from awareness towards purchase and loyalty step by step.  Full stack solutions are also already starting to embed algorithms for data driven attribution modeling. Very few clients however have successfully integrated their available data sources in the system, so they can start running meaningful calculations on the data.

Also, you can only gather behavioral data across the full consumer journey if you have meaningful content across the full consumer journey. You can only track behavior if people interact with your own online domains. You can’t for instance track interactions with the website or advertising of a competitor or a comparison site that is not your own (you can in a research panel, but not in your own real-time tracking systems). If you focus your marketing efforts completely around the last stage of the purchase process, that is the first moment people arrive at your domains and start transmitting behaviors that you can store in your database. If you invest in content strategy that offers consumers answers to questions they may have in the early process of purchase orientation (for instance “what are the nice areas in Asia to visit” instead of “book your hotel now”), they will interact with your domains much earlier and your database gets richer.

So, the power of data is not just dependent on data infrastructure, but also on the (branded) content you offer. Hence even though all systems are already in place, advertisers are not anywhere close to utilizing the full possibilities. Understanding the interdependencies between various systems helps you put the puzzle together to predict how the future changes business.

IIR: In the digital age, what IS the new consumer angle at Google?

Joris: Digital marketing has focused on last click attribution for many years. The early parts of the consumer journey, which include branding, have been ignored for too long. Questionnaire research and behavioral research in opt-in panels has shown us that consumer journeys are long and complex and that you need to guide consumers through step by step. Most data related efforts both of Google and other digital companies nowadays are about making the consumer journey transparent and offering the right message at the right moment for different types of people.

Quantifying the impact of brand advertising is part of that challenge since brand impact is basically a delayed conversion. We have tools that allow you to measure brand impact as a one off study (e.g. exposed unexposed methodologies) or tools that help calculating visibility, reach and online GRP’s, however what you really want is optimizing your campaigns on brand impact real-time and with the same level of detail as what you do in performance marketing. The key lies in translating traditional brand metrics towards behaviors that are a proxy of those metrics (e.g. likes, subscribers, comments, voluntary views etc). Only behaviors help you optimize campaigns real-time. That is not possible using questionnaires because those don’t scale will enough. If behavioral proxies of brand impact can be embedded in full stack databases and in data driven attribution algorithms we are a step closer towards the future of marketing and advertising.   

IIR: How is wearable technology affecting market research?

Joris: I see wearable technology as part of the mobile trend and the diversification of devices. The big challenge here is that again there is an extra factor that contributes to the shattering of data. Cross-screen, cross-device and cross-channel behavior makes it harder to follow consumers throughout their journey towards purchase. Advertisers together with their data partners need to think intelligently how to find unique identifiers that help keeping a consistent view of their clients so a person that just visited a website on a mobile device is not treated as a completely new visitor if he or she visits the desktop site five minutes later.

IIR: What is the best innovation in market research that you have seen? 

Joris: I think the industry has taken big steps in building the first panels where digital behavior can be tracked across devices with software. In the best cases these same panels also track online and offline purchase behavior. For instance together with Gfk that has allowed Google in the Netherlands to run more than ten studies looking in detail at the consumer journey of consumers in various product categories. These studies provide a level of insight that you can’t get anywhere else. Not by using questionnaires or qualitative research and also not by looking at your own real-time behavioral data. Advertisers are really happy with these kinds of studies.

IIR: Where do you see market research technology going in 5 years?

Joris: I hope to see a full integration between questionnaire research and qualitative research on the one hand versus the use of behavioral data on the other hand. I believe traditional research can add a lot of value that helps using behavioral data in more intelligent ways. Research agencies need to think how to embed outcomes of traditional research methods to enhance real-time decision making like for instance the intelligence of real-time bidding in programmatic marketing or the interpretation of real-time A/B tests.


Want to hear more from Joris? He will be presenting a keynote session entitled “Digital Transformation for Data Driven Professionals” at InsightTech on Tuesday, May 5th at 10:15 am. Learn more about the event and register here: http://bit.ly/1C4fJnr

About the Author: Amanda Ciccatelli, Social Media Strategist of the Marketing Division at IIR USA, has a background in digital and print journalism, covering a variety of topics in business strategy, marketing, and technology. Amanda is the Editor at Large for several of IIR’s blogs including Next Big DesignCustomers 1stDigital Impact, STEAM Accelerator and ProjectWorld and World Congress for Business Analysts, and a regular contributor to Front End of Innovation and The Market Research Event,. She previously worked at Technology Marketing Corporation as a Web Editor where she covered breaking news and feature stories in the technology industry. She can be reached at aciccatelli@iirusa.com. Follow her at @AmandaCicc.

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