Behavioral Science, Tech Innovation, and Human Expertise
The PRS IN VIVO team just got back from Austin, Texas where we had a terrific time at the GreenBook annual IIeX NA Conference. We thought it was an absolutely spectacular event.
A bit of background: I have been coming to IIeX (which stands for Insight Innovation Exchange) since its inception 7 years ago as a much smaller event in Philadelphia. For years after, it was held in Atlanta in June, but its popularity outstripped the venue; Greenbook made the decision last year not only to move the location to Austin but also to hold it two months earlier. The question was: would the industry come?
The answer was pretty evident when on the opening day, Will Leach of TriggerPoint Design, one of the two Masters of Ceremony addressed the crowd at the opening plenary session. He asked those in the audience for whom this was their first IIeX to please raise their hands. An unscientific visual counted the first timers at roughly 80%!
Not only were many of the attendees new, but the conference was notable for the number of new exhibitors and speakers who had never been seen at an IIeX event.
There were some old familiar faces, but it was remarkable how many MRX and related firms were presenting solutions new to the roster of innovations and innovators that IIeX has debuted to the research community since the first gathering in Philadelphia.
We can remember a newcomer in Atlanta only several years back, AYTM, a DIY research platform, who this year was a major sponsor, celebrating the success of being adopted by some of the world’s largest brands.
There were other new company success stories being repeated in everything from data visualization to the application of AI to almost every aspect of research from social media and passive behavioral observation to panel access, data collection, and analytics.
A consistent theme throughout the conference was the clients’ need for agility and responsiveness in their suppliers, as well as new ways to unlock insights without relying solely on traditional surveys. Suppliers talked of marrying various sources of data (social media and behavioral data as examples) to get at insights into path to purchase and visibility into trends.
There are a number of recurring issues that continue to cause concern: Tia Maurer of P&G told the crowd that panel quality continues to be troubling with an estimation that 20% of respondents are taking 80% of our surveys, which she characterized as an unsustainable and unreliable way to get at consumer truth.
DIY has passed a threshold on the maturity curve in which brands could vet the solutions most likely to provide speed, economies and efficiencies and those that created more problems than they solved. That same panel (included researchers from The Walt Disney Company and Del Monte, in addition to Ms. Maurer) seized on support as paramount in the successful adoption of any platform and suggested that they weren’t always deploying the tools truly DIY. But fast isn’t necessarily good. The panel cautioned that any tech that was solely created by technologists rather than experienced researchers were not likely to be as reliable or useful. So the message was clear: test and validate, and expect your partners to know and understand research and behavioral principles.
Behavioral science continues to demonstrate value as a principle framework for understanding and predicting consumer choices. A large proportion of speakers presented solutions and examples of research featuring some aspect of behavioral science to uncover insights. The key is unpicking whether those solutions are just “buzzwords” or actionable recommendations leading to better business outcomes for clients. We were proud to be amongst those who could really stand behind a behavioral framework that has been routinely validated and adopted by clients as the preferred standard in shopper and product experience measurement.
AI is clearly on the minds of the entire industry. What was evident is that while there is great promise. But clients need a large enough data source and trusted, reliable partners, to help them apply AI and machine learning effectively. The key truth that emerged was without being built on behavioral data, AI was just “artificial” not intelligent.
This is the only way they can avoid what Ellen Kolsto of IBM described quite humorously as the “Muffin and Chihuahua Effect”: AI and Machine Learning making correlations in data that are faulty, leading to unreliable assumptions, and bad business decisions. AI can facilitate making bad decisions faster, Kolsto warned, so clients need to do their homework and make sure that they are buying human intelligence and category expertise in addition to a smart algorithm in AI enabled research.
So the key takeaway for us was the need for agencies to authentically marry Behavioral Science, Tech such as AI and Machine Learning with true Human Expertise to understand and predict consumer behavior. Humans and machines separately could be flawed, but together the combination of their assets will make for the most powerful, and actionable, insights.
We were thrilled to be sharing our latest innovations amongst old friends (and competitors), clients, and applaudable newcomers enabling automation and intelligence at scale. IIeX more than any other conference programme pushes the industry to explore new opportunities to apply technology, innovation and human expertise for the only goal that matters: Helping clients achieve growth and better business outcomes.
If you didn’t get to IIeX in Austin, be sure to check out the other events IIex is sponsoring this year. And we hope to see you next year!
Alex Hunt is global CEO of PRS IN VIVO, the leading expert in behaviorally lead consultancy in shopper and product experience. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.