I just returned from my first SampleCon in New Orleans today. I was asked to join a panel of thought leaders discussing Innovations in Engagement of Hard to Reach Audiences. We didn’t solve the issue of how to reach those audiences from a sample perspective, but we did have productive conversations that yielded new insights on how to address this conundrum now and in the future.
While the panel topic warranted a much-needed conversation, the discussion around the rise of behavioral data quickly took center stage. For those maybe unfamiliar with behavioral data, it is essentially data that is passively collected either via your mobile, PC, or laptop. Data from what you search, sites you visit, where you go, and so on is collected anonymously for marketing purposes. While the ethical ramifications are hotly debated, it is happening and the implications for marketing and market research are far reaching.
SampleCon is an interesting conference. It is the core of market research essentially, and here's why. When people think of market research, they think of the data, the analytics, cool PowerPoints, and visualizations. Rarely do we think about the people behind the data – the people taking the surveys. Hence, why SampleCon is so important.
SampleCon brings it back to the core of market research, the respondent. Respondents are not only actively taking surveys but passively creating data through their everyday technological interactions. Because of this, the sample industry finds itself in the middle of a precarious paradigm shift.
What does this mean for a sample company that doesn’t actively collect data?
The answers to that question range from the rise of machine learning and AI – potentially taking the respondent out of the equation – to the merging of survey research and behavioral data. The answer, more than likely, will fall somewhere in the middle.
I eavesdropped on conversations that revolved around genuine fear of the rise of AI. Yet, I have no fear that the respondent will ever be replaced. Machines need to learn. And while algorithms will become even more sophisticated, the need for a data pool for them to learn from will always exist. That data pool is human.
It's true that behavioral data is going to change the nature of the sample business forever. The question now lies in how and what we need to do to ensure that respondents add context to this data through survey research.
We have to be careful here. As an industry, we are running the risk of burning out our respondents with old school surveys in a new school world. We can't expect them to take 30-minute surveys when they can find a date on Tinder with a single swipe?
The key for the future of our industry will be to educate clients on how to answer fundamental business questions in a more modern and user-friendly way.
So don’t worry about the rise of the machines. They are rising, but they’ll be piggybacking on us for a while.