Thursday, January 2, 2014

The quantified self may lead to more accurate market research

Over the past few years, a plethora of “smart devices” and apps have emerged with sensory technologies that track everything from the number of pills in a bottle to items in a refrigerator.  These new devices rely on sensors to gather information and share it―usually with an app on a smartphone.  While such technology certainly offers great convenience to consumers, the impact on data collection may create a sea change for market researchers, physicians, dieticians or any researcher whose prior data collection methods relied on the biased accounts of self-reporting.  New advances in, and adoption of, sensory technologies, will make it possible to gather information that is not only instantaneous but also more accurate than what was previously possible. 

Consumers are flocking to purchase devices that allow them to better understand themselves.  For example, “The quantified self” movement, established by health fanatics and dieters, has become mainstream with the arrival of devices such as Fit Bit, Nike’s Fuel Band and Jawbone.  These sleek armbands make tracking calories burned, heart rate and sleep quality a passive endeavor for the wearer.  Essentially, these devices provide a quantified assessment of the wearer to themselves and may serve to predict future behavior based on personal goals.  While such information is typically used only for self-assessment, it is possible for it to be shared with third parties and thereby alleviate the need for self-reporting. 

One explanation as to why the quantified self movement has become so popular lies in social psychology.  According to Daryl Bem’s self-perception theory , states that the only way to truly know oneself is by analyzing one’s own behaviors.  In other words, we are what we do and our thoughts and feelings are the result of our actions (rather than our attitudes dictating behaviors).

As marketers, we traditionally rely on asking consumers what they think/feel/do in order to understand our audience, but there is always a tendency to caste oneself in the most favorable light―which makes self-reporting methods invalid.  New sensory technologies, however, prevent such biased accounts because data can be collected and recorded in real time and marketers no longer need ask the question, “Who are our consumers?”, rather, analyzing true behaviors will allow us to better predict what is wanted and needed.  

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