One of the stumbling blocks for market researchers has always been the fact that most of their survey data comes from “self-reported”, and therefore conscious, data submitted by respondents.
In other words, is the respondent telling you how he or she really feels, or maybe just giving you the answer that they think you want to hear? So the problem remains, how to get at that valuable unconscious involuntary data?
Vancouver’s Vision Critical, a market research firm that has been pushing the envelope about as far into big data and tech as possible while putting the old models of telephone and/or internet surveys behind us, has been talking up the benefits of facial analysis recently, something they regard as the next frontier for marketers hoping to glean insights from the public.
Speaking to The Australian while in Sydney for a conference, CEO Andrew Reid said, “For us, it’s about integrating with more of these technologies that are out there from the big data space to social media. One example is being able to track people’s emotional responses by using a web cam. We tell them, ‘We’re going to show you a video or an image, we’d like you to look at it, and then we’ll ask you some questions.’ Algorithms record their emotional reaction. Are they delighted, are they intrigued, are they bored? It’s another interesting way to get that pre-cognitive feedback.”
Vision Critical’s technology supplier in this endeavour, Boston-based Realeyes, recently raised $3.2 million in Series A funding. Touting itself as “the Google of emotions”, Realeyes has been busy developing face-reading technology designed to interpret emotional reactions from the facial reactions of respondents.
More than 40 Australian companies count themselves clients of Vision Critical, including mobile phone company Telstra, Target, the Australian Football League, and Kimberly-Clarke.
Between their efforts at facial recognition, monitoring sentiment on social media and monitoring mobile technology, Vision Critical is attempting to close the gap on real-time marketing based on accurate prediction of consumer behaviour. “Getting feedback from customers and location data – understanding where someone is and sending them something based on them entering a store – will be hugely important,” said Reid.
Vision Critical isn’t alone in developing this front in tapping the pre-cognitive sentiment of the crowd. MIT Media Lab researcher Rana el Kaliouby describes commercial applications of face-reading technology as “low-hanging fruit” in discussing their software, straightforwardly called MindReader. An Egyptian, el Kaliouby expressed surprise that a dictator like Mubarak could have so drastically misread the feelings of animosity directed his way. He believed, wrongly, that people liked him, until it was too late.