Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Measurement's Exponential Curve

I attended the Global Retail Marketing Association’s annual leadership conference recently and had the opportunity to interact with a few terrific speakers including Ray Kurzweil – renown futurist in all matters technology. Ray bombarded us with scientifically- and econometrically-based forecasts for where health, computing, and social technologies were headed.

Kurzweil has a pretty good track record in predicting these things (as evidenced by his success as an angel investor) based on a simple concept – that evolution in technology is not linear, but exponential. He cited examples of how this has been true across the technology spectrum time and time again, but also across the spectrum of life in general. By plotting the advent of major advances in life sciences, one can quickly see how the pace of innovation is accelerating. In fact, the average lifespan of a child born today will be well into their upper 80’s, and that lifespan is accelerating. (Do the math, and if those of us in middle age can just wait long enough, we may live forever.)

As I listened, it occurred to me how appropriate this concept was in the arena of marketing measurement too. While marketers have been seeking to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of their efforts almost since marketing was born as a functional discipline in the early 20th century, the pace of discontinuous innovation is accelerating. And when I speak about discontinuous innovation, I’m not referring to the introduction of internet-based research tools, but fundamental changes in the way we are learning to understand marketing’s impact on the consumer/customer.

For example, traditional survey-based research techniques are proving to be far less predictive of human behavior than bio-metric scanning methods that monitor brainwaves, heart rate, respiration changes, or skin temperature. Today, advertisers can expose their creative messages to prospective customers and read the immediate response in involuntary biometric systems which overcome the social and cultural biases that tend to filter logical survey responses.

Another example… many companies are dis-adopting regression-based marketing mix models in favor of artificial intelligence techniques and agent-based models which focus on replicating thought processes in the full context of competitive dynamics, instead of just looking for statistical relationships. True, these higher-intelligence techniques have been around for 30+ years and not yet found significant penetration in marketing applications, but the PACE of adoption is now increasing noticeably and innovation is driving relevance and applicability more quickly than ever.

All of this has me thinking these days that market research may be operating towards the end of its current lifecycle. The tools, methods, and techniques we use today will not persist more than another 10 to 20 years. We will learn to move past recording and clustering rational thought, and past our voyeuristic tendencies to predict future behavior based on past actions. And in the process, we will learn to reconcile what people say, think, and do with the powerfully innate drivers buried deep in our biological wiring – like in this example.

Inevitably, we will see many instances of borderline unethical manipulation which will slow this adoption curve a bit, but the amount of money and time being invested in these new areas of learning is far too great to be stalled by commercial mis-steps along the way.

So when you drag your finger across your touch-screen interface a few years from now, the underlying systems will capture not just what and where you touched, but your heart rate and body temperature at the time (along with possibly the size of your pupils). This information will feed logic-driven systems which will immediately adapt the type of images, sounds, and smells to your innate preferences to stimulate your interest far beyond anything we’ve achieved as marketers so far.

And just think about the impact this will all have on which metrics we adopt to measure performance…
Pat LaPointe is Managing Partner at MarketingNPV – specialty advisors on marketing metrics, ROI, and resource allocation, and publishers of MarketingNPV Journal available online free at www.MarketingNPV.com.

No comments: