Recently, I was invited to a meeting in a Virtual Reality Simulation (SIM.) We were there to discuss the creation of an environment where marketers could observe customer behavior, as opposed to a more traditional focus group approach.
We each designed our own avatar - that’s me in the green sweater. My avatar looked good and I was feeling “rad.” I quickly learned, however, that moving an avatar with arrow keys is much harder than it looks. Now, reflecting back, it was comical, however, at the time I wasn’t laughing.
During the meeting, a colleague approached to speak with me. Instead of turning to face her, I turned my back to her. Then, unintentionally, I walked away. As the meeting proceeded, I battled to control my avatar. I walked through walls, bumped into people, fell down stairs – you get the point. I kept thinking, if only I’d played more video games I wouldn’t have looked like such a freak. That was the complete opposite of what I was going for, the opposite of rad!
The SIM was laid out like a shopping mall with various stores each containing merchandise arranged on display. As a data strategist, my role was to ensure that all the necessary data was collected during the simulation to answer Marketers’ questions. For example “Which store attracted the most attention?”, “Which display attracted the most attention?” and “Was there a difference in reaction based on demographics (i.e., gender, age, etc.)?” To accomplish this, specific measurements would be collected while customers shopped within the SIM.
o Which was the first store each customer entered?
o How long did they stay in the store?
o Which item(s) did they look at while they were there?
o Which items did they pick up?
o How long did they look at a particular item?
Luckily, I work with good people who I hope will eventually let me live down my comical ineptness. All kidding aside, the experience was fascinating and as a result, I realized as we enter the 4th Industrial Revolution, I need to get better at moving avatars because I envision many more meetings in virtual reality.
Thick Data! You’re Kidding, Right? What Next?
By now, you have probably heard that Big Data cannot answer all questions. Vast amounts of quantitative data is great, but it does not reveal all. Therefore, the need still exists for rich qualitative data. As with everything these days, we had to rename it. It is no longer qualitative, but “Thick.” Where Big Data is broad, Thick Data is deep. Thick data allows us to understand the root cause underlying a problem, one that is seldom revealed through the analysis of quantitative data. Qualitative data also allows us to predict future trends, ones not revealed through the analysis of past events.
In the past, qualitative data has come from interview responses, focus group feedback, verbatim survey comments and the like. Marketers gathered qualitative data using focus groups. They would bring people to a location and show them photographs or mockups, or they’d build models of packaging, displays or store layouts and ask the group to give their opinion by asking them questions. This would provide the marketers with rich, deep data needed to drive effective marketing campaigns.
We are now realizing, however, that the problem with these more traditional forms of Thick Data collection are highly unreliable. Why? “[Because] people frequently lie… People lie to friends, lovers, doctors, surveys—and themselves,” says Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, PhD, a Harvard-trained economist, former Google data scientist, and New York Times writer. Dr. Stephens uncovers the level to which humans lie through game changing research using data from the Internet.
The eight trillion gigabytes of data amassed daily by those using internet search engines, social media, dating sites, and even pornography sites, finally provides a “digital truth serum” from which we learn what people really think, what they really want, and what they really do. Dr. Stephens draws insightful conclusions regarding the fears, desires, and behaviors that drive us, and the conscious and unconscious decisions we make. I highly recommend his recently published book entitled, Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are.
So, Why Virtual Reality?
Virtual reality presents an opportunity to take qualitative data collection to a whole new level.
Using SIMs, we will no longer need to ask people what they think, we no longer need to rely on what people tell us, and therefore, there is no opportunity to lie. This ‘ups the ante’ on data quality as virtual reality permits us to collect all kinds of detailed information as we observe customer behavior.
So, I plan to embrace virtual reality and the benefits it provides. I just got my first Virtual Reality Headset. How about you?