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What Marketers Need to Know About Innovations in Data

What Marketers Need to Know About Innovations in Data

Finn Raben

three illustrated heads with brains replaced with circuits

An analysis of recent global developments in data

Data and analytics are constantly evolving, whether through technology, new understandings of consumer psychology or regulations and legislation. With so much going on, it can be difficult for marketers to keep track of developments that may come to impact their work in the future. What do marketers need to know?

Artificial Intelligence is Maturing

The data and research sector is awash with buzzwords and phrases, one of which is artificial intelligence. In recent years, AI was used as a catch-all for various technological products and systems that used elements of machine learning and automation to streamline back-end processes and operations. However, true AI is now maturing in the industry and is likely to have a huge impact on data collection and analysis.

The value we now see in AI is in the adjustment of scale. In particular, it has game-changing applications in the field of qualitative research. Historically, focus groups—or newer online communities—have been constrained to participant sizes based on the logistics of moderation. Now, companies such as Remesh are using AI moderators to run online, real-time qualitative research with respondents numbering in the hundreds, rather than the tens.

AI also has significant applications in analyzing text analytics, whether through open-ended text responses in quant surveys, social media listening or examining responses from computer-assisted telephone interviewing techniques. AI revitalizes data that was sometimes discarded because it was not recorded by phone interviewers; would cause challenges in manually coding answers; or was believed to be too vast, fast and variable. Research agencies will be able to provide additional qualitative context from quantitative surveys, creating richer insights for their clients.


We’re also seeing AI applied to social prediction. Brands such as PepsiCo are using AI to track and analyze social media conversations and sentiment, as well as to combine that information with weather, search and government data to recognize potential trends ahead of the pack and inform new product lines.

AI was billed for many years as a game-changer in data analytics and market research. We’re now seeing that promise fulfilled.

System 3 Thinking

The market research industry has long been the bridge between academic consumer psychology and commercial application.

You’re probably aware of implications of System 1 and System 2 decision-making. These systems were developed by psychologist and Nobel Prize-winning economist Daniel Kahneman. System 1 decisions are the fast, instinctive and emotional decisions our unconscious brain makes when first encountering a stimulus. System 2 decisions are the conscious brain’s slower, more deliberative and logical rationalization of a choice. When you see a product on the shelf in a supermarket, your System 1 self decides which product is more desirable, based on the immediate emotional reaction to the packaging or brand. Your System 2 brain then rationalizes that decision based on factors such as cost.

System 1 decision-making is a core element of behavioral economics and is a key way we make purchase decisions. However, new work in neuroscience and psychology has uncovered another way of making choices: with imagination. Leigh Caldwell, a behavioral economist at the Irrational Agency, has termed this kind of decision-making as System 3 choices.

System 3 uses a different part of the brain than Systems 1 and 2. It applies to how you imagine a product or service may make you feel after purchase. When you buy clothes, for example, you’ll imagine not only what you look like in them, but how they might make you feel and how they might make others feel to see you in them. You’re most likely to choose the clothes you imagine you’ll feel best wearing. System 3 imagination combines past and present experience with possible futures and works out which it enjoys most.

Systems 1 and 2 decision-making still has its place in how we make consumer choices. But we may find that System 3 completes the decision paradigm, certainly until further breakthroughs in consumer psychology.

Data Legislation on the Fast Track to Change

International marketers working in Europe will understand some of the disruption caused by the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation last May. Whatever your thoughts on GDPR and data legislation—and regardless of whether you work internationally—it’s worth getting organized as soon as possible.

The European Union designed the GDPR legislation to be a framework for facilitating the development of the global digital economy. After one year, we’re already seeing similar legislation in Japan, South Korea and elsewhere. There is no single U.S. law that governs all data processing, but most states have adopted one or more privacy laws.

However, we’re seeing a significant increase in the number of changes and conversations around data protection in the U.S. Much has been said about the California Consumer Privacy Act, which will come into effect on Jan. 1, 2020, and there are numerous privacy bills being proposed at both state and federal levels. It is safe to assume that the already complex landscape will be increasingly difficult to navigate.

There is also the European Copyright Directive, a piece of legislation that—if left unchecked—would have meant that anyone conducting social media listening and text analysis would have had to pay each author an amount for using their text. Thankfully, ESOMAR’s efforts with EU lawmakers have ensured an industry-wide exemption for market research.

It’s difficult to say what legislative changes might be in the pipeline, but what can be said for certain is that change is coming. Take this opportunity to assess your data practices and future-proof your organization.

Finn Raben is director general of ESOMAR. He has spent most of his career in market research, previously working at Millward Brown IMS in Dublin, Nielsen, TNS and Synovate. Raben serves as an external examiner at the International School of Management in Avans University in the Netherlands.