Monday, December 20, 2010

Facebook says use us for opinion research.....

Yesterday (the 19th) the New York Times Magazine had an interesting little quote at the bottom of page 40 from Cameron Marlow, the head of the Facebook data science team :

"Given that there's a population of 250 million people or more logging every day, it seems ridiculous that you would try to get in touch with them through a it seems like it's improbable that social media won't be the way that we acquire opinion research."

LinkedIn for a while had an idea about using their members as a panel for MR, not certain if that is still going on. It is all about monetizing, in the end the venture capitalists have to be paid somehow. They want their return.

Facebook does have a lot of members. It has to be the logical thing to start using them for market research. Will they become the worlds largest, most comprehensive panel ? Sell access ? Do a deal with a panel company ?

Is 2011 the year FB will move into MR ?

Monday, December 13, 2010

I have a Data Fetish.

There is a very interesting video on the Brainjuicer website ( shot at the last ESOMAR conference. It features a variety of well known figures in the global MR business commenting on the future of MR. One of the leading proponents of semiotics states “We’re hearing an awful lot of data fetishism again…”

I am proud of having a data fetish. 

I also believe there are symbols, deeper meanings, engaging stories, myths yet to be told,  decoded and reproduced. I have a lasting regret that I never got to attend any of the courses the late Ginny Valentine offered. She was a pioneer in semiotic techniques as well as being lovely person and she had a truly innovative intellect.

I also believe there should be theories of human behaviour within MR with falsifiable predictions and validations. I believe without data and analytics of some form we simply weave tale after tale out of control. Scorning data, by labeling people as having a data fetish, is a perilous thing for MR. If we believe that a few priests of symbols and semiotics have the key to understanding the human condition we just condemned our business to ruin and obscurity. Narrative obsessions are no better than data fetishes.

The problem is scalability.

MR needs analytical approaches, of any genre, that can be applied by the thousands of MR professionals across the world. So far it seems that semiotics hasn’t been able to scale that way. There are respected practitioners that are able to apply the tenets of semiotics effectively, but we don’t seem to have enough of them. There seems to be a problem in training researchers in the principles of semiotics. If something can’t be used widely it will remain a niche. The fact is data fetishists do have a set of approaches that can be scaled and learned across many thousands of users.

But this is the season of goodwill to all. Let us put aside ideologies, no more talk of data fetishism or narrative obsessions. We should work together. I have long thought there must be some way of applying the tenets of semiotics via software, for instance in the semiotic analysis of web sites. So I am calling for a joining of forces of software with semiotics to develop Computer Aided Semiotic Analysis (CASA). I would love there to be wider application of semiotic techniques, maybe this is the way ? I think it could be a great tool for MR.

Mi casa es su casa. We should all dwell in the same place.

Peace out.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Blood and Stakes....

I got the latest copy of the “Journal of Neuroscience, Psychology and Economics” ( a few days ago. This journal covers the burgeoning field of neuroeconomics or as the journal puts it “the application of psychological and/or neuroscientific methods to business and economics”.

The first article was interesting. “Medial Frontal Activity in Brand-Loyal Consumers: A behavior and Near-Infrared Ray Study”. The authors were Ching-Hung Lin, Hsu-Ping Tuan and Yao-Chu Chiu . This study measure blood flow in the front bit of the brain (hey, let's not get too technical here) when respondents who were defined as brand loyal and brand “switchers” were shown luxury and non luxury items. I never thought I would see “fashion experts” cited like this in a journal. The stimulus materials were handbags. There were a couple of interesting things about the experiment. First they were measuring blood flow by shining very bright near infrared light on peoples foreheads and measuring the reflected light. Think about those things they put on your finger to measure pulse and blood oxygen in hospital. It is that principle but used on the front of the brain, apparently the light can go deep enough into the skull to penetrate the brain. They found that according to the blood flow there was a discernible difference between luxury preferred brands and generic unattractive brands.

What is very interesting is that this uses something you put on a subjects forehead. You don't need a $2-3 million fMRI set up to measure the blood flow at the front of the brain (so the authors say anyway). If this technique really works we can finally put a well deserved stake in the heart of fMRI studies. Using a MRI machine is expensive as well as being very noisy and claustrophobic for the subject. It is impossible to see how the respondents in a MRI are in the correct frame of mind for the results to be valid.

While we are “staking” neuromarketing methodologies, the whole “brain waves with a single electrode on the forehead” needs a couple of stakes through its heart as well. Unless the laws of physics have changed, I am utterly skeptical that you get anything other than muscle noise from the muscle on your forehead, called the Frontalis muscle. My belief that you can get any electrical signals from the brain with this single electrode on the forehead is up there with my belief in Father Christmas, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny and honest politicians. Really, you have to be kidding me. I don't care how many signal filters you have and how much Fourier analysis you do.

Going back to the handbag paper, yet again we get the usual problem with neuromarketing studies. The authors state that the infrared detection technique they use is “easy to prepare and portable unlike most other brain image instruments”. Very true, a MRI machine is as portable as a small building can be. So given this portable, easy, non invasive, stress free technology they are using how big a sample do they use ? The number they came up with was 28, with one of the groups having just 4 (that is four) subjects in it. Four is not a cell size. It's a minimal number for a dinner party, but not for a cell size in a neuromarketing study if you want to be taken seriously. The whole N in neuromarketing is its biggest problem at the moment, as I have said before. I hope this infrared technique works, I hope even more that someone will use it with a decent amount of subjects. No wonder neuromarketing has to endure claims by traditional MR that it is unscientific, it's the N=tiny that does it. Believe me there are some utterly egregious abuses of statistics and sampling in traditional MR that could be discussed if I wanted to spend the rest of my life being sued. Traditional MR talking about a neuromarketing study not being “scientific” is incredibly hypocritical and they know it. But as long as we have cell sizes of 4......

Scraping By

The Wall Street Journal has a long article today about the web and privacy. It choses to dissect a company called TapLeaf and how it collates data on individuals which is then resold.

I feel slightly sorry for RapLeaf, they are getting more attention than I am sure they think they deserve. The truth is the whole “privacy” issue and the web is exploding, and I expect to see a lot more about this in the coming months. Pretty soon the government(s) will get involved, whether we like it or not. We have to hark back to the era when telephone research was king, it was great for a while, then all the calls got out of control. The government took notice. We can point fingers at the direct marketing industry, but we had a hand in it too. Eventually we got the “do not call” list and exemptions for MR, but it was a close thing.

Over the last couple of weeks there has been a long debate in a LinkedIn discussion group (“Text Analytics Professionals”) about the ethics of “screen scraping”, which is downloading or scraping information from websites for use in market research. A company called Buzzback, owned by Nielsen, was caught scraping a website called “Patients Like Me”. It was against the terms of service (TOS) for the Patients Like Me (PLM) website. The debate has gone back and forth, there are those who feel anything on a website is “fair game”, there are those who disagree. Do you obey the TOS or ignore it ?

I think this debate is going to be irrelevant soon. Like it or not, as sure as night follows day, there will be more legislation about web privacy, and I would expect it to cover screen scraping. What the MR community have to do is to make sure it does not get side swiped by this. Social media is now hugely important to MR and we can expect the new rules, when ever they come, to cover information posted on social media. Complaining about the government(s) is all well and good, but we have to be part of the process. And there will be a process.