Virtual reality – Regardless of age, to some the idea may seem fantastical, vague, perhaps belonging only to science fiction. To others, virtual reality is a logical technological next step, or past step, actually, as it’s been in use in various forms for quite some time now. With regards to marketing research, although virtual reality technology is not the norm, its presence is increasing. The thought of using virtual reality in marketing research is nothing less than, well, exciting. However, the technology is more than just stimulating to the imagination, and it can provide an important and timely complement to more traditional forms of market research, such as surveys and focus groups. Virtual reality is employed along a variety of different modes, but with marketing research, the technology primarily serves to simulate physical markets for consumers, like grocery stores. Other, more symbolic simulations have also been used by researchers to better understand how consumer decision-making works at a more primal level. Our decision-making capacities are based both in rationality and emotion, and virtual reality technology assists researchers in discovering just how much, as well as how, the subconscious plays with and drives our decision-making processes. This blend of neuroscience and marketing science actually streamlines the market study scenario, where research administrators are able to quickly and flexibly alter the virtual environment while maintaining a tight, laboratory-quality level of control. Additionally, the devices used in the research project create a virtual environment for the participant’s consumption while also consuming information itself, instantly collecting data from a variety of variables as the participant makes—or does not make—decisions in the simulation. In terms of improved insights about consumer behavior, virtual reality technology can mimic the clutter and over-stimulation found in most authentic purchasing environments. Consumer participants also do not have to handle and examine products like in many other research modes, allowing the researcher to more clearly observe how participants make choices based on visual cues (like how products stand out among the clutter) and preconceived preferences. The flipside of this aspect, however, is that other cues, like smell, feel, and taste are yet included in the virtual reality choice-making experience. Granted, technology is rapidly evolving, and some of these issues may have already been resolved. There exists a new virtual reality system called N-Matrix that not only attempts to deal with the tactility issue, but also uses EEG-based brain measurements to deepen the complexity of insights. Virtual reality technology is already more advanced than many of us know; I look forward to seeing how it evolves. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GCE_0bUTnRY
You know the old saying: something that sounds too good to be true...is. Webcam eye tracking has been touted as a sort of redeemer: you don't have to pay those ugly meanies at Tobii, SMI, ASL, etc. those exorbitant prices to track the eye with expensive cameras, extra infrared lighting, fancy monitors, and elaborate software. Easy as you please, you can just use the camera embedded in your computer and voila! -- eye tracking results at Wal Mart prices. Well, Aga Bojko has done us all a great service by conducting practical tests with webcam eye tracking and exposing these fallacies. Her results are here. It's not so much a scathing expose as a simple reminder that you get what you pay for. As Aga points out, webcam eye tracking can indeed detect the gross regions where the respondent is focused, but not much else. If that's what you need, go for it. Most of us need more, and more precisely. She rightly finishes by saying "it's a nice quick-and-dirty option to have handy" (or words to that effect), but note that the list of limitations is quite long! For example, low frame rate, poor accuracy, head movements harm results, static pages only, short sessions required, and so on. More time in market will help. For the moment, webcam eye tracking is a work in progress.
Eye tracking technology has evolved rapidly over the past dozen or so years so that studies employing eye tracking within a true 3D VR environment have become a reality. Surprisingly, many eyetracking studies still employ first generation technology. Here's a brief review of how eyetracking has evolved: First generation - simple eye tracking using a static image with no interaction between the respondent and the image being viewed. There is little or no use of virtual reality technology. Useful output is restricted mainly to findability metrics. Second generation - utilizes VR to provide a more realistic shopping experience but requires two separate sessions on the part of respondents, the first session is a VR shopping study followed up by a second session, the eye tracking component, that measures what the respondent is looking at. The two-part nature of this study make it nearly impossible to obtain a single integrated view of show the respondent is shopping. Attempts to overlay the two datasets are performed manually and are subject to analyst interpretation. Output includes gaze trails, dwell times and incidence of views along with separate tables of items purchased or rejected. Third generation - integrates eye tracking and virtual shopping into a single session that is being driven by the respondent in a dynamic VR environment. The key distinction that true integration brings to shopper marketing studies is that robust statistical analysis can be applied to the data being collected. Gaze trails have now been replaced with regression models that can be used to project the findings of the studies into nationally reliable sales numbers. The latest developments in technology are seeing new biometrics being captured to augment the insights gained from eye tracking. For example, brainwave measurements captured at the same time with eye tracking can pinpoint the portions of the brain that are stimulated during key periods of VR shopping. Researchers can now measure how emotionally involved the respondent is during the shopping experience which may lead to the ability to manipulate the very nature of the decision-making process itself!
Recently released US Consumer Expenditure Survey data confirm what eyetracking studies have been telling marketers for some time. Our Nimbus eyetracking studies revealed a widening gulf between the shopping patterns observed between younger generations and their older counterparts over the past 5 years. The eyetracking data revealed differences in dwell times and rejection rates among the different age cohorts. Not only were there differences in what they purchased but there were differences in price sensitivity and the amount of time spent on considering a specific product before either purchasing or rejecting. Recent releases of the CES data for 2009 reveal the impact of those shifts in shopping behavior on the distribution of common household purchases. Some categories of household goods look to be on a declining trendline. Meanwhile, other newly emerging products are siphoning off the discretionary spending of Millennials. The problem is that the decision-making process of Millenials has changed and new ways of reaching the younger generations with product information are needed.
Clients often ask whether the results from a virtual study reflect actual shopping behavior in a real store. During a recent oral care study, we measured a 97% correlation between dollar value of purchases on a brand-by-brand basis made by respondents buying in a virtual store versus reported industry sales. The Pearson Correlation Coefficient was significant at better than 95% confidence level for results summed up across more than 13 brands represented in the study. This high degree of correlation meant that all sorts of different stimuli could be tested for effectiveness in a virtual reality study with confidence that the results could be applied to real marketing strategies.
Mobile device usage in China has surpassed the US and indications are that penetration rates will continue to climb faster in China than either the US or Europe. Mobile device users are far more likely to access the Internet and do so more often than other internet users. Understanding these mobile device users is going to pose a major challenge to marketers since they tend to ignore traditional surveys. It stands to reason that any research needs to make use of the same technology platforms.
Is mobile eye tracking better than tracking from a computer monitor? There's debate. Most mobile eye tracking solutions provide analog output in real time. In other words, researchers and observers can "see what the respondent is seeing" in the moment. That's great for qualitative insight, but what kind of precision or quantitative reliability does it provide? Not much. On the other hand, eye tracking from a computer monitor in virtual reality provides real coordinate data, precise time coding, and in some cases fixations on special areas of interest, like a brand name on a label. So far so good. Is there any downside to eye tracking from a computer monitor? Some people claim the virtualizations are clumsy and unreal. But with each new year that critique fades, as the virtual reality simulations are approaching the real world much better. The odds seem to be in favor of tracking the eye from a monitor. Maybe there's somebody out there who sees it differently?
Southwest Windpower (SWWP), a Phoenix-based supplier of wind turbine generators for “small wind” supplemental green power generation (i.e., for single structures – homes, commercial buildings, etc.), asked Cascade Strategies to survey online communities and summarize their point of view on the viability of small wind. SWWP was in pursuit of a Green Energy Development Grant from the US DOE, and needed to persuade the department that small wind was a credible concept when compared to large-scale wind farms, according to company spokesman Dave Sanchez. The Cascade project discovered that many bloggers and online content providers were cautiously optimistic about single-building or small-campus wind farms, though they clung to the notion that the best contribution to the green energy movement was simply to purchase carbon offsets from their current power supplier. SWWP used the results to support their application and received the US DOE grant.
Tell us how we can help you
Cascade Strategies can serve your market research needs from the most straightforward to the most sophisticated project. Don’t hesitate to contact us to tell us about your next project, or your overall research needs in general. You can call (425) 643-9789 and ask for Jerry, Nestor, or Ernie. Or send us an email at email@example.com. We’ll get back to you quickly!