No matter what market research or data collection methodology you choose, it comes with limitations. Those who attempt to claim their new technology, approach, or methodology to collect data from consumers come without flaws, is misguided. Choosing the best methodology depends on your unique needs as a client.
One innovative and growing technology used in the market research field is eye-tracking or emotion tracking tools. These are particularly popular in the retail field as big-box retailers with deep wallets attempt to understand consumer behavior at the most critical time of all. The point of purchase.
I've witnessed this technology first hand through prior work. Shoppers were sent around a grocery store wearing eye-tracking headsets with backpacks while they shopped for milk, laundry detergent, and produce. They eye-tracking headsets relayed data back to the client on what consumers looked at while scanning shelves, what brands were noticed over others, and how participants read the packaging and labels. This was coupled with traditional shop-alongs and intercept surveys to provide the client with a comprehensive review of findings and takeaways.
Eye-tracking and emotion tracking software is a growing technology in market research, but to think of it as a flawless methodology is unrealistic.
Saying the point of purchase has evolved over the past decade would be an understatement. What once was the point of time when a Heinz ketchup bottle was picked instead of Hunts down Aisle 8 in the condiments section, has now evolved into a click of a mouse or a tap of the finger on the iPhone to buy ketchup from Amazon. As a result, digital marketing and market research firms are developing new ways to capture data from these digital experiences beyond the basic Google Analytics.
Although eye-tracking and facial recognition software passes the "cool-test" in market research, as is the case with any methodology, it does come with limitations. Here are 3 of them.
The Hawthorne Effect
A concern with market research including focus groups and shop-alongs is the impact of being observed. The Hawthorne Effect explains people will act differently if they know they are being watched. To think a grocery shopper would shop normally while they are equipped with goggles and a 10-pound backpack is impractical.
This is also the case with facial recognition software. Since participants opt-into the test allowing a firm to record and analyze facial changes during advertising unveils, videos, and logo treatments, they are 100% aware they are being watched.
This lingering feeling in their conscious or subconscious thoughts might make that funny video a little funnier or the friendly video a little friendlier. Accept this limitation, the same you would accept focus group responses while clients view the groups through a one-way mirror.
Small Sample Sizes
An argument can be made that 20 or 30 facial recognition sessions can provide some interesting subjective data. However, much like market research in general, you need to be thinking in (at least) the hundreds to ensure you have a representative a reliable sample size.
Although 2 focus groups of 12 persons each produce a small sample size of 24, other options exist in market research to obtain stronger reliability. Nowadays, online surveys can be conducted with hundreds and even thousands of respondents who match your target audience affordably.
Online surveys can be done inexpensively and quickly. So the presumed cost savings of a smaller number of eye-tracking sessions (less than 30) only holds true if you compare it to qualitative research, not quantitative.
Context and Interpretation
As stated earlier, facial recognition software and tools may pass the cool-test but they often lack context. Much like human error, there is presumed bias in software like this. Although the software may register a smile as a positive reaction, was the smile because the respondent felt uncomfortable by the stimuli presented? You'll never know.
A benefit of focus group and voice of customer (VoC) research is the ability to peel back the onion. Much of this depends on the quality of the moderator but traditional market research can dive into the root of emotions and motivations. This additional context gleaned from more traditional methodologies can prove to be a standout. This follow-up and conversation between 2 people are bypassed with new facial recognition software.
There is also an ancillary benefit with VoC and market research in that you are actively talking about and exploring ways to improve products and services. Technology-driven market research such as virtual bulletin boards and eye-tracking research is impersonal and lacks this engagement.
Both facial recognition software, eye-tracking tools, and traditional market research have their own unique benefits for businesses. You should evaluate the pros and cons of each when examining your methodology options.
Some of the best insights and strategy you'll receive is by combining and utilizing all of these techniques above. This approach would provide you with both the "what" and the "why" behind emotions and behavior.
Drive Research is a market research company in Upstate, NY. We specialize in a number of market research services including Voice of Customer (VoC), Customer Experience (CX), and online surveys. Contact Drive Research at info@DriveResearch.com or call us at 315.303.2040.