NEXT Insights: Technology + Emotion = Better Insights

H: In a future with mass unemployment, young people are forced to sell blood. That’s the first thing I can do.

H2: You should see the boys and shut up. I was the one who was going to be a hundred years old.

The fairly unnoteworthy, if a little strange, opening dialogue of a science fiction short movie. Except, the movie itself, Sunspring, is very much noteworthy given the entire script was written by an AI, Benjamin, using an LSTM (long short-term memory) recurrent neural network. If you’ve haven’t seen the short, it’s worth taking the 9 minutes to do so. Strange, quirky, remarkable.

I’ll confess to only just hearing about the movie at this year’s Insights Association NEXT conference, when keynote speaker Eric Solomon played a short clip as part of his discussion on the conversion of art and science, or as he put it, “where the Math Men — the owners of data and algorithms — are sitting around the same table as the Mad Men — the owners of the creative process.”

This convergence is just as apparent in the Insights world as it is in the Creative world that Solomon discussed. On the one hand, we are inundated with the ‘science’ through a continual stream of new technology covering data collection, analysis, visualization and beyond. And, of course, AI is very much part of all these technologies. On the other hand, we have a resurgence of the ‘art’, the human element. This is the art of asking questions, obtaining insights from our data and sharing them meaningfully with stakeholders. It also a reminder that consumers, our research participants, are in fact people (imagine!), with thoughts, feelings, points of view and so on. So, let’s talk to them as such and then bring them into the decision-making process.

How is this a convergence? Well at NEXT many of the technology-related presentations discussed how they could help bring the customer closer.

I chaired an entire afternoon of sessions dedicated to video technology where several case studies demonstrated video’s ability to understand and bring customers to life. (As many of you will be aware, I’m a massive proponent of video and certainly needed no convincing of its power. Nevertheless, it was good to see the range of scenarios and companies fruitfully using video.)

Another example was an extended panel discussion around the use of dashboards. What was most interesting here is how the conversation morphed from the technicalities of dashboarding to a larger discussion around connecting other members of the business with Customer Insights in meaningful ways. This included breaking down silos and the role of the researcher. Other presentations had a similar theme.

There were also methodological discussions around emotion drawing upon Behavioral Economics, with many references to Kahneman’s System 1 / System 2 thinking. The role of emotion in thinking is important not just in the choices they make – why they chose one brand over another – but also in terms of how we ask people questions about their decisions, their attitudes, and opinions. Again, on this front technology can help us ask better questions and, at times, eliminate the need for questions. It can help us analyze data in different ways that perhaps removes, or at least sheds light on, the researcher decisions and subjectivity.

All of these technologies and scientific thinking helps us get closer to the people we want to understand. It helps us humanize them, whether this is during the research process or in the dissemination of research findings. Either way, bringing people to the forefront is a positive trend and a much-needed one where the conversation around seemingly impersonal technology rules the day.

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