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What does it take to reach critical mass in market research?

Sometimes it feels like the rate of innovation and change in the market research space is random and chaotic. It seems like only a minute ago that we were listening to the sound of modem dial-up as we shifted our research online, now everyone has 4G devices with HD cameras - making them more accessible than ever before. Information used to be scarce, and now it’s easily shared; in fact, there is a deluge of data, and it’s completely changed the research landscape and the tools we use. In this blog post, we consider how these innovations reach critical mass and what happens after they do…

Historically, very few discoveries were made out of thin air. Most of the greatest insights depended upon the intellectual ecology in which the scientists lived. A certain critical mass of "new findings" occurred, and bright people all over the world found out about it, and several read the tea leaves the same way. - John Medina, Professor of Bioengineering at the University of Washington


What is Critical Mass?

Critical Mass is a concept created by game theorist Thomas Schelling and sociologist Mark Granovetter. It is the point when the adoption rate of innovation, an idea, a behaviour or tech in a system becomes self-sustaining. If you’re reading this blog post on your mobile, you have a perfect example in your hand right now.

Diffusion of Innovations:

A crucial concept in understanding the social nature of the diffusion process is the critical mass, a point in the process when diffusion becomes self-sustaining.


Critical Mass in Sociology

It’s a term for a group of people who make a drastic change, altering their behaviour, opinions or actions. In some communities (e.g. rural), just a handful of individuals can change prevailing views. In larger societies (e.g. urban), the figure must usually be higher for a change to occur.


Critical Mass in Groups

Psychologists have known for a long time that groups of people behave differently than individuals. A general rule is the larger the crowd, the less responsible people feel for their behaviour. Gustav Le Bon studied what it took to spark change within large groups of people and suggested three key factors created conditions necessary to reach critical mass. These were anonymity, contagion, and suggestibility. The individuals with the most influence were often the early adopters and had the most power over others.


Critical Mass in Business 

It could be defined as the time when a company becomes self-sustaining and is economically viable. Just as in nuclear physics, critical mass is reached when a chain-reaction can sustain itself.


Critical Mass in Market Research

The same principles of critical mass apply to our industry too. Every new methodology, innovation or technology, which is now commonplace and ubiquitous, was once unheard of. Since the turn of the century, we’ve seen various research terms and approaches become commonplace including insight communities, big data, social media, mobile research and much more.

The launch of the internet and the arrival of Apple’s iPhone are often cited as seminal moments for technology and research as they made the world a far smaller, and better-connected place than it once was. Both played their role in enabling research practices to rise to prominence, and they continue to enhance emerging methods.

Smartphones helped the concept of Voxpopme’s consumer-recorded video feedback take off in 2013 and advances in technology (both in-house and externally) transformed video into an agile, end-to-end solution that is now used by the world’s leading brands.

The rise of B2B SaaS (Service as a Software) continues to increase the pace of change in the insight economy. You only have to visit Zappistore to see how accessible research has become thanks to automated tools, or drop by Affectiva’s website to see how facial coding is changing the way we interpret people’s expressions and thoughts.

Knowledge and Innovation for Development: The Sisyphus Challenge of the 21st Century:

It has implications for the concept of critical mass in research and innovation, for in addition to quantitative critical mass (amount of resources, number of people) and qualitative critical mass (type of resources, personnel qualifications, nature of facilities), it becomes necessary to acquire an 'interface critical mass', which refers to competencies and capabilities in fields that are adjacent or indirectly related to the one in which the particular innovation is focused.


Has to be sticky

So, how did the likes of Voxpopme, Zappistore, Affectiva, Lucid and others find the sweet spot that has seen us begin our own journeys towards mass adoption? We believe each has its own “stickiness factor”, a term coined by author Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point. Outside of research, Twitter is sticky because it gives us access to real-time news from first-hand sources and allows us to bypass centralised (i.e. censored) newspapers. Within research, we found video insight to be sticky because it’s so visually engaging and rich with context and emotion. Zappistore is sticky because it provides unrivalled automation that delivers same-day research results - making businesses far more responsive to consumer needs and preferences. The particular circumstances, time, and place must be right for a mass adoption of technology to occur. Understanding how a tipping point works can help to clarify the concept of critical mass.

The quality that compels people to pay close, sustained attention to a product, concept, or idea. Stickiness is hard to define, and its presence or absence often depends heavily on context.


Speed is of the essence

The best companies strive to be better listeners, which demands they be customer-centric. The winners in research seem to be those that can spot trends, identify the tipping points and turn a sea of data into actionable insight. Whether sourcing sample, setting up surveys or analysing video insight, speed is of the essence. That’s why we’ve built an automated analytics platform that skips the lengthy analysis process associated with a video. However, this speed cannot be at the expense of quality and accuracy if we’re to ensure the longevity of innovative solutions.


Only needs a small push

Research has shown that just a 10% adoption rate can lead to an innovation becoming mainstream in any industry. What matters is that those people believe in the new tech and that they pass their ideas onto others. The Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute looked at where the shift from minority to majority lies. According to

Director of Research Boleslaw Szymanski:

When the number of committed opinion holders is below 10 percent, there is no visible progress in the spread of ideas. It would literally take the amount of time comparable to the age of the universe for this size group to reach the majority. Once that number grows above 10 percent, the idea spreads like flame.


What's in the early adoption phase now, that will soon reach Critical Mass?

Useful technology leads early adopters to persuade those around them to try it. Eventually, not having a particular technology or skillset becomes a hindrance. End-to-end video research has reached critical mass, and it’s no longer in the early adoption phase. Projects without the rich responses of video are at a distinct disadvantage. Gone are the days of manual consuming, editing and transcription, and with them the barriers for everybody including competitors (who are always looking for an edge).

So what will happen next? Well, we predict that video research - our area of expertise - will completely change the design of surveys. People who are used to live-streaming and using their camera phones will not be interested in time-consuming, lengthy surveys because they’re used to just pressing ‘record’. As for the overall sector, we’re certainly in an exciting phase of development, and we're looking forward to seeing bright-eyed researchers making the most of the influx of innovative tools in market research. If we look back in ten years time, we’re certain there will be some more seminal moments up there with the arrival of the internet and the smartphone.

Information Rules: A Strategic Guide to the Network Economy:

moving too late can mean missing the market entirely, especially if customers become locked into rival technologies.


Looking to learn more about agile video research? Discover how easily you can see the people behind your data with your free step-by-step guide to video by hitting the button below…