Looking to the East: The marriage of technology & behavioral science

December 3, 2018

As I travel back from the IIeX 2018 APAC summit in Bangkok, I wanted to share some themes that emerged, of which those of us more typically operating in consumer insights in the West might do well to take notice.

IIeX always highlights the innovators driving the future of MRX, but this conference illuminated the degree to which technological advancement, and bravery to try creative and unproven new things, is further along in APAC than other markets.

Perhaps this is due in part to the spirit of innovation that has historically risen from the region?  Or perhaps it results from the entrepreneurial empowerment and freedom that is an imperative to win in emerging economies.

Whatever the genesis, the manifestation of real research innovation, driven by bold embrace of technology, is alive and well. What was also apparent is the confidence with which our APAC counterparts are willing to experiment to gain consumer understanding in new ways.

The BBC and ORC International presentation made this point well by showcasing the creativity needed to marry disparate data streams, to build a deterministic model supporting media planning for the benefit of all advertising clients. The presenters used the analogy that the effort represented more of a triathlon [imagine hundreds of swimmers all over the place in choppy open waters] than an Olympic pool race [smaller number of swimmers in organized lanes]. One can’t help but wonder: would there ever be real permission for this sort of creative approach to data and research management in corporate headquarters?

What was also worth noting was that the case studies featuring hyped terms such as “AI” or “blockchain” were much more than theoretical, revealing real life positive business impact achieved through application of these tools in Asia.  They included a fascinating look at how the Cathay Pacific’s Asia Miles rewards scheme used blockchain to strip out processes and is now being embedded into MR. Another by Dave McCaughan of the AI Agency, demonstrated how mining open data sources has created better ways to track brand performance for the Singapore Telco market than traditional costly and unreliable approaches.

But technology has only taken APAC clients so far. In session after session, speakers portrayed technology as an accelerator or means to greater efficiency parsing large amounts of disparate data. But it was the combination of technology with a true understanding of human behavior that drove for the most impactful application of technology.

Personally, I was thrilled to see far fewer suppliers feeling the need to explain behavioral science principles versus the “Kahneman bingo” some suppliers have cynically tended to rely on at European and US conferences. The principles of behavioral science are accepted and perhaps no longer need to be endlessly stated; the task for researchers is applying them in effective ways, using the most appropriate technology, and adding a healthy dose of human curiosity and creative thought to uncover the sort of consumer and customer learning that can build businesses.

It was Binance’s Chief Growth Officer, Ted Lin, who made the point most clearly.

Binance, as one would expect, are confident they have a superior crypto currency exchange. He attributed their growth however, to an insight around inspiration rather than technology. They have embraced their value to consumers is not about volume or efficiency of transactions but rather letting people know their “why”, which he described as “promoting the freedom of money”. Truly something that technology alone could not have delivered.

One presentation that demonstrated the perfect marriage of technology and human understanding was from Nichole Gu of PRS IN VIVO and James Fergusson of MDI Global. Nichole and James demonstrated how mobile research could be used to accurately research snacking behavior among Indonesian consumers, but only when a behavioral science grounded model of human understanding was applied to decipher what the in context mobile data revealed.

So, I came away from IIeX APAC with three insights:

  1. Courage to experiment is often easier when you are not tethered to a corporate HQ and is even an imperative if trying to succeed in an emerging market. Certainly all could benefit from the entrepreneurial mindset on display at IIeX APAC. We commit to fostering such a spirit across all our PRS IN VIVO teams.
  2. Technology is only as good as the problem it intends to solve. Any new tech solution, like AI, needs to be more than hype, if it is going to contribute to a transformational change in the insights industry. To realize technological progress, we need to see tangible examples of application and successful outcomes.
  3. There is still a lot of role for the intuition and creativity human researcher, maybe now more than ever. Technology may make us faster, more efficient and capable of tackling new, disparate and in-context data sets to analyze, but it will take human ingenuity grounded in an appreciation of behavioral science for the insights industry to deliver meaningful impact that grows both our client’s, as well as our own, brands and businesses.

THE AUTHOR

Alex Hunt is the Chief Revenue Officer for PRS IN VIVO, and a frequent guest and contributor to conferences such as IIeX.  To learn more about his thoughts on the role behavioral science and technology in market research you can reach him at alex.hunt@prs-invivo.com.