ResTech is booming amid the pandemic. Recognising that they need ongoing insights at a time of overwhelming uncertainty and change, brands are investing in tech to get a real-time and accurate understanding of their customers.
In today’s unpredictable landscape, using tech is no longer optional in research. And in many projects, emerging tech can play an important role in driving business outcomes.
How ResTech is used alongside traditional techniques
Let me demonstrate with an example. A global beverage brand approached us recently to get a more nuanced understanding of the desirability of its drinks. Pre-pandemic, the obvious techniques would have been in-person ethnography and in-person interviews and focus groups – techniques that are slow and time-consuming but appropriate for this type of work.
New tech bridged the gap. We recruited hundreds of consumers for in-home missions and used the Rival Technologies platform to get quantitative and qualitative responses on their behaviours and attitudes. After gathering hundreds of videos in just a few days, we used facial coding software and voice tonal analysis to capture sentiment beyond what consumers said. Select participants joined us for virtual in-depth interviews, with real-time transcription software and text analytics aiding the analysis. The project involved five languages in seven countries and was executed from end to end in just a few weeks.
This example illustrates the need to use mixed methodologies and numerous platforms to get a richer and more complete understanding of people’s attitudes, behaviours, and underlying motivations. Through our experience, we know that maximising the ROI of emerging research technologies is more of an art than a science.
Seven strategies for integrating ResTech
Below, find a few key learnings to consider.
1. Purpose-fit the tech you are considering.
Tech is never a complete replacement for a traditional research method. Don’t try to force a technology just because it’s cool. Business and research objectives should take precedence. Tech will do some parts of your research project better than traditional approaches, but it will also do other things poorly. Don’t compromise data quality for the sake of innovation.
2. Prepare for a conversation.
Tech companies care about the length of the relationship. Their business model is built around yearly subscriptions.
On the other hand, agencies (and even client-side teams) think of tech on a project-by-project basis. Research teams care about sample size and operational costs, which are a lower focus for a software company. This puts the tech vendors and researchers at cross purposes.
There’s no single way of doing this correctly, but understanding the tech company’s model and explaining what you’re after is a good first step.
3. Find the right balance.
Established vendors are safe bets, but their solutions operate within a box – customisations are often time-consuming and expensive, if at all possible.
Newer players have more flexibility and can deliver value in surprising ways. Set aside budget and time to play with emerging methodologies because this is where innovation happens.
That said, aim to have traditional methods as a fallback. Some Reach3 clients, for example, have done parallel studies using Rival and existing vendors to understand the differences between the two. Eventually, brands discover that the new technology delivers deeper, richer insights, but having the traditional tech available provides peace of mind in the early stages.
4. Get support.
DIY has its place and time, but if you’re using new tech, you need to make sure the vendor has invested enough in customer success. No matter how great the technology is, if it’s new in the market, you’ll likely run into unforeseen issues. Having solid operations and customer success teams that can help bring your creative ideas to life with their tech is crucial.
5. Budget appropriately.
Traditionally, research projects are costed with treating all costs as direct costs and then a services cost is overlayed on top to arrive at a profit. Tech is not a direct cost – it’s an enabler that helps you do something exponentially. As an agency, if you use the traditional costing model, you will price yourself out of the running.
While your first project will have a steep learning curve, over time there will be efficiencies and eventually, tech will save time and money.
6. Be clear about liability.
When working with customer data, be cognisant of who will take on the liability of the tech. Typically, the relationship is between the service provider (tech company) and the client (who owns/is responsible for the customer data). The research agency is not a natural fit in the mix. If you’re on the agency side, engage your client, the tech vendor, and your legal counsel early to navigate this discussion more smoothly.
7. Experiment with care.
You will occasionally come across a piece of tech that is amazing at doing something specific, which may seem like an exciting add-on to a research methodology. Be cautious when doing this. Unless you have proper dev support, expanding the application of the tech is a more gargantuan task than it might seem. Doing constrained, smaller experiments can help you validate new use cases without taking on a huge burden.
Maximizing the value of new tech
Deploying innovative research tech should never be scary or disruptive. If you’re a corporate researcher, the easiest way to test new techniques is to work with agencies who are already experts in new technologies you’re interested in.
In the end, ResTech is best deployed by researchers who understand the business issue and know how to integrate technology in a fashion that automates and accelerates insights-generation so humans can do what they do best: use insights to create game-changing business recommendations.