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Seeing things through the eyes of consumers

Mobile technology and fly-on-the-wall digital video research are proving to be a breakthrough in understanding the behaviour of previously difficult-to-reach consumers.

* Note the original version of this Article was produced by Tim Phillips for The Insight Economy, A special report by Raconteur for The Times. Download your copy of the full report here.

For 50 years researchers have known that the research we do isn’t always the research we need. Results may take weeks or months. When we respond to surveys, we hold back, or make ourselves look good or misremember. We know a lot about middle-class households in rich economies, but much less about how people work and live in the developing world.

Mobile and video technology is changing all this. For example, the idea of the vox pop isn’t new – companies send out a film crew to accost random consumers in the street. The cost and the time of editing the footage meant that results are expensive and may take weeks to reach the people who make decisions. But, because those people know next to nothing about the interviewees, the voices they hear are a poor basis for decision-making.

In contrast, when Channel 5 wants to do a vox pop, it asks members of the public who take its conventional surveys to use their webcams to do their own vox pops. Within 48 hours, those responses have been transcribed, analysed for sentiment, edited and delivered, ready for the weekly editorial meeting.

Tom Beasley, Channel 5’s viewer insight manager, uses the clips to support his traditional audience research, helping schedulers and commissioners to understand what’s behind the viewing figures. “We might be trapped in our own little bubble, so we want to get the opinion of the public,” he says. “Everyone in the meeting wants to find out what the viewers say, even if it’s not always what they want
to hear.”

Previously, these opinions were gathered using surveys that contained what the researchers call “open text” – a box, usually at the end of a list of questions, in which you can say anything you want. Open text can be useful in the same way as vox pops are. Surveys often ask only about things the company thinks is important, completely missing the other important information about what we love and hate. But, confronted with the survey equivalent of a blank sheet of paper, Channel 5’s viewers tend to freeze: “The viewers often give one-word answers, or say ‘it was good’ or ‘I didn’t like it’,” Mr Beasley says.

Dave Carruthers, founder and chief executive of Voxpopme, which provides Channel 5’s video surveys, as well as working with companies such as Barclays and Tesco, says: “We find that video interviews give six or eight times as much content as open text and we’re capturing emotion too. Seeing consumers saying things in their own words is far more compelling internally than statistics alone. It has the emotional value to go with the rational value of big data.”

Selfie vox pops also reach decision-makers more quickly. For example, Voxpopme uses crowdsourcing to transcribe the responses so they are searchable within ten minutes of being recorded.

Digital video can be delivered and searched in hours, rather than waiting for a final edit. When interviewees are part of an existing panel, they can be selected by age or background…

Tim’s article is continued in the full version of The Insight Economy - access your free copy, courtesy of Voxpopme, by clicking here.