Survey replacements – are they really ready?

I was recently part of a marketing training class where the teacher answered a question about surveys being conducted to garner audience perceptions and experiences with, “Stop doing surveys! Everyone who takes them lies.”

Of course, being me, I offered, “Well, now that you’ve obliterated my profession, what do you propose we do to collect that information?” His answer was basically in the vein of a newMR researcher’s point of view: why ask surveys when we can measure actual behavior via telemetry, or emotion detection, and when we have neuroscience to help us understand decision-making processes better?

Once again, my comeback is this: we simply don’t have the tools built out yet and in enough use to make the switch. I wrote about this somewhat before with a post on LinkedIn titled, “While some things change, others stay the same.” That was written in August 2015. We’re coming up on two years since I wrote that post. In the two years since writing that, I thought I’d try again with a dream world in which I replaced my large-scale tracking study with newer market research and data collection methods.

Here’s what I determined:

  • Telemetry. I’m still new to this resource, but I’ve learned enough to know that so far, not every telemetry source is going to give you the entire picture of behavior of the general population – particularly when it comes to trying to measure organizational behavior instead of individual behavior. I’ve spent more of my time in the B2B research world, meaning I’m well aware that companies are quite reluctant to let any kind of telemetry tracking occur on their systems, for fear that the group collecting the data will use said data to market new products aggressively, or if a hacker obtained the data, it could be used to identify weaknesses in systems and create easy targets of the companies in question. Home user telemetry is also likely to be lacking. My son uses our phones, computer, and tablet a lot, all under our profiles. I’m sure our app usage looks intriguing to someone analyzing the data, and I’m hopeful the person doing the analysis can tell when it’s a child using the devices rather than an adult. However, it won’t be perfect. And who knows, maybe I do really like watching Lego shows on my own…
  • Social media data. While most of us are active on at least one social media platform, not all of us are, and those who are most active tend to be so because they have something they really want to share with the world. Once again, this provides a skewed view of any population, if used on its own. And again, when it comes to B2B, there are some people who use a separate social profile to review and interact with other companies, so if we were to pull social media engagement on a person, we’d need to also likely use their IP addresses to find all social media profiles to get a better picture of that person. This is another area where I’m very much a novice, but it seems social media is used differently in a B2B setting than it is in a B2C setting.
  • Facial recognition/emotion recognition. I am super intrigued by this area of research. Can you image if in a B2B setting, we could see as people are using various products real-time? Now…do we think any company would actually allow its employees to be followed and tracked in such a way over time?
  • Gamification. Let me first clarify that I’m talking about actual full-fledged gamification, not just making a survey that uses a slider to make the answering process more interactive. Instead, I’m talking about a game wherein my audience does some tasks from which I’m able to get a better understanding of what they’re doing and what decisions they’re making based on different scenarios. This is honestly the most plausible way forward right now if I were to completely replace my study. However, I would need to really hammer down the intent for the study so the game didn’t end up feeling like a never-ending game of Risk, where I find I’ve spread myself too thin and now have nothing valuable.
  • Virtual or Augmented Reality At least for B2B, I’m not entirely certain how I could use VR or AR for research. I want to; it’s cool sounding, but I don’t know how applicable it would ultimately be, let alone how scalable it would be if I want to measure a global audience’s perceptions and reactions to something.

Net: the tools are there, but they’re far from perfect, and I, as a researcher, am still learning the power behind these tools. At least from a B2B perspective, I think there is a much longer way to go before I could replace my entire survey. In that vein, if you are also a B2B researcher, I’d love to hear your thoughts on using these newer market research and data collection methods to understand audiences and measure behavior. What’s worked? What do you wish worked but doesn’t yet? And for those in the B2C realm, what’s been your experience with these types of tools?

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