Recap: The Future of Consumer Intelligence 2014

Imagine a line drawn in the sand that is filled with hot burning coals. To the left of the burning line stands a group of people. And to the right of the burning line stands another group of people. The group of people on the left are all directly facing the burning line drawn in the sand and are staring at the opposing group. The group on the right are also all facing the burning line drawn in the sand, staring directly at the group on the left.
The burning line drawn in the sand represents trust. The group of people on the left believe they are entitled to the right group’s trust because they are trying to help them. The group on the right believes trust is earned and will not easily give it to the group on the left. The tug of war between the two groups over trust causes friction and creates the burning line drawn in the sand that neither can cross without the right tools.
The above scenario is analogous to what was presented at the recent 2014 Future of Consumer Intelligence conference (#FOCI14). The group to the left was Big Business, the group to the right was the Public and we as attendees were willing and able to sit right on the burning line drawn in the sand and discuss how to bridge the gap between groups.


As marketers and researchers we love to collect lots of data with the intention of using personal information to improve products, services, and lives. But at what point is it considered invasion of privacy? Do consumers really know how their data is being used, regardless of whatever they agreed to? At FOCI14 it was made evident that as marketers and researchers, we teeter on the brink of “Empowerment vs. Endagerment”. The path to maintaining the balance and bridging the gap on the subject of data between Big Business and the Public was made evident: provide clear, concise rules and guidelines for how consumer data is used that moves past legality and into the territory of morality.


Clearly our industry is at a point of disruptive innovation as new technologies and methodologies allow researchers to get a clearer picture of consumer insights. But who are behind all of these insights? That’s right, people. In our industry we label people as consumers, customers, shoppers, respondents, target markets and more. But remember that behind all of our studies are people. And sometimes we can act as a barricade between companies, their brands, and their consumers in an attempt to remain unbiased and objective. So how do we bridge the gap?

For starters, John Havens, Founder of The H(app)athon Project, suggests we can begin by switching out the label “consumer” with “customer”. Whereas Elizabeth Merrick, Senior Customer Insights Manager of HSN suggests we consider research as another touch point of the brand, “We should allow customers to contribute to a brand, not just consume it.”

So it appears the segue between marketing science and people is essentially personal treatment and recognizing that customers are more than a data point within a spreadsheet.


The more I thought about it, FOCI14’s tagline of The Convergence of Technology, Marketing Science & Humanization of Data seemed unintentionally (or perhaps intentionally) dichotomous where both Big Business and the Public were descending upon the line drawn in the sand. So it goes with technology & humanization.

There is no doubt that technology improves lives at blistering speeds. Ray Kurzweil, Director of Engineering for Google pointed out that, “Information Technology expands exponentially across time, not linearly.” But as we become more technologically advanced, do we lose a piece of our humanity and our identity?
As we discussed more and more about the subjects of technological advances, psychological habits, triggers, and touch points at FOCI14, it seemed the key to closing the gap between technology & humanization of data relied upon engagement. If new technologies enable to us to engage with customers in a more 
meaningful way and people are able to build stronger psychological connections with each other, then the gap is bridged. If on the other hand, the research community were to stand disengaged with customers and people, then technology & humanization in the field will stand diametrically opposed on a bridge that is about to collapse.

So the real question in all of this is, “Has your organization bridged the line drawn in the sand?”

Editors Note: This post was written by MrChrisRuby, an award-winning expert Marketing Research & Consumer Insights Executive who has consulted with several Fortune 500 companies. He is passionate about morphing data into actionable marketing intelligence that augments business operations. Follow MrChrisRuby on Twitter @MrChrisRuby, email him at or read The Market Research Insider blog.

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Amanda Ciccatelli

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