Generating consumer insights - a controversial issue

13 Apr 2009|Added Value

BIG BROTHERHow far can the market research stretch into digital media? Where are the legal and ethical boundaries? – Point of view: Dr. Oliver Nickel, Icon Added Value Germany

The consumer world has changed because consumers have changed it, from boycotting the census in 1987 to a nowadays collective obsession of self-revelation via Twitter, Facebook or StudiVZ. The digital fingerprint left by every digital user leads to a – perceived – loss of privacy and ends in the much debated dogma of the transparent consumer.

Interesting in this context is the question, who is profiting more from the transparency of the internet. Consumers demand transparency from companies and brands, they even influence actively the content of communications and marketing strategies via the internet and criticise online potential misconduct by companies relentlessly. So it’s understandable why companies are looking for a “reversed transparency”. The digital revolution is not a completely new challenge for market research but has a reviving effect on traditional brand and consumer research. A passive search for evidence (“Listening-In”) and active involvement (“Co-Creation”) are the descriptions for the major areas in research.

Nethnography is a modification of the well known tracing and observing based on the principles of ethnography. How do car enthusiasts indulge in the various tuning forums about “lowering their car”? What hints do housewives exchange when it comes to “cleaning an oven”? From research perspective it is about generating insights as a starting point for a solution focussed process. Deliberately starting a dialog with a respondent solves the ethical dilemma. Researchers can actively involve targeted users in the process via moderated social platforms (e.g. AV-id), get into a direct conversation with them and by doing so connect insight gathering with co-creation.

The advantages: costs and time efficiencies, in terms of time researchers and participants work independently, access to very specific populations but above all even greater authenticity. The consumer is not forced into an artificial environment but acts naturally in his private space. Taking pictures of the own living room or the morning breakfast table over a week, a look in the shopping bag every Saturday or filming the evening party. All that works and indicates a balance of research interest and communication culture in the new millennium.

Conclusion: The “old methods in new clothes” are adding value by using the medium internet. However it requires researchers to act sensitive, since the legal and ethical aspects seems still a bit vague especially in regards to online observations. The principles and the practice in commercial research are primarily the result of balancing personality rights of individuals and the right of research and their resulting methodological requirements.  In general research and activities outside research must be strictly separated. Tracing where evidence is linked 1:1 to an individual must be disapproved for ethical and legal reasons. The same, if a researcher disguises as a “like-minded” person in a web community.

Written by: Dr. Oliver Nickel, Icon Added Value Germany – Originally published in w&v innovation April 2009

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