Archive for September, 2011

Video Analytics Are the New Future

In a post a couple weeks ago, I referenced the SKC Tech Summit as an example of a conference outside my field by trade but inside my field of interest. Though it wasn’t an explicit theme, the idea of a “video revolution” certainly loomed large. Topics like telemedicine and virtual education were highly visible throughout the event.

Market research and customer insight was not—although companies like TASKE emphasized an analytical approach to call center software that included rudimentary service satisfaction surveys. Not market research, per se, but a good indication of how integrated insights are adopted by non-traditional market research departments.

Video has been a staple of focus groups for years, of course, and focus group facilities have mostly used advancing technology to help present the work to those who can not be there in person rather than change the way the work is done. QualVu does a great job innovating around video—exploring new techniques and making it more accessible, more diverse, and more entertaining on the report-out side. But as the name suggests, it continues to be primarily qualitative.

What struck me at the SKC conference was the potential for qual-quant hybrid techniques through the usage of video analytics. There are some facial recognition and eye tracking software programs out there that edge towards this idea, but I’m talking about teaching computers to analyze visual motion data, rather than just text/voice or still images.

Considering that text analytics and still image analysis are still immature, I expect video analytics to be at least two technology leaps away—but it’s not too early to get in position to lead in this area.

Take large scale in-home ethnography as an example. QualVu does in-home “ethnography” on a small scale. I put ethnography in quotes, because the respondent is pretty interactive with the camera—it’s more about them showing than you observing. And small scale because the analysis is intensive enough (and qualitative enough) that traditional qualitative sample sizes are both effective and practical.

But imagine setting up three video cameras in 1,000 kitchens for a week. Or two days a month in different households for a tracking study. Quant sample size. Multiple cameras to capture different angles. The client could be a CPG company, a grocery store, a cookware company—you name it. Sophisticated visual analytics could potentially tell you:

  • What’s your morning coffee routine?
  • How much time do the kids spend in the kitchen?
  • How many of those fancy knives do you actually use?
  • Are you drinking wine while cooking dinner?
  • Are Ziploc bags a replacement for Saran Wrap or Tupperware?
  • How many trips to the pantry are required for each meal?

Yes, you can ask things like “Do you clean as you go or wait until the meal is finished?” on a survey, but that sort of misses the point of ethnography. You don’t always know the right question to ask. It’s less about testing hypotheses than uncovering latent needs and motivations. Pervasive video makes observation of people in their natural environments possible in a way that it has never been before.

“Pervasive video” immediately suggests Big Brother (uh, maybe not this one) and privacy concerns. Big Brother or no, privacy has changed. I won’t even get into the respondent confidentiality aspect that consumes much of the traditional market research world. The fact is, individuals have shown an increasing willingness to broadcast their lives that shows no sign of abating, regardless of what Chuck D thinks.

The technology, on the other hand, in not there yet. Talking to people at Cisco, video analytics is on the radar, but not yet a high priority. The more pressing analytic need is to search for text in video, search-engine style. This technology—think automated transcription—is available but still a bit clunky. And of course, creating the broadband and hardware infrastructure to easily facilitate web-based video transmission is a project that is also just underway.

But as we know, technology moves quickly, and I have no doubt video analytics are coming. A five- to ten-year time horizon would not surprise me.

And once we have sophisticated visual analytics, the Big Data explosion will reach another order of magnitude. Potential applications, that may be easier to imagine than voluntary in-home surveillance, include:

In-store video cameras that can provide comprehensive insight into the shopping process, and combined with web analytics, give great insight into online/offline integration for retailers

  • Evaluating B2B performance and client relationships as videoconferencing skyrockets
  • Mobile streaming/life casting—which is already happening but will become more comprehensive as video becomes easier and cheaper to upload

And for those outside the Kansas City area, know that Google is launching a Fiber network here in 2012 that promises to make uploading (and downloading) video much, much faster.

What other applications do you see for insights and analytics as video becomes more prevalent? How far off do you think we are from video analytics?

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Google, Pandora, and Digital Cameras: Innovation at Linda Hall

Up until about six months ago I had never heard of the Linda Hall Library. Despite its location in the middle of the UMKC campus, it is actually one of the world’s largest privately funded and operated libraries. Founded in the 1940s with a gift from the grain Hall family (rather than the greeting card Hall family), it is expressly devoted to science, engineering and technology.

The Linda Hall Library sponsors an annual lecture series, and the theme this year is innovation. I caught a couple of the spring lecture series on the future of innovation, and I’m really looking forward to the next series, which seems incredibly timely and—given the lead time it surely took to book the speakers—prescient.

The title of the fall series is This Time It’s Personal: Innovation in Your Home. This theme fits perfectly with the Google Fiber initiative—which has established Kansas city as a test market for what ultra high-speed Internet in the home might mean.

The opening lecture, by the author of The Googlization of Everything (And Why We Should Worry), will take a more guarded approach to Google, in contrast to much of the communal giddiness about the corporate giant’s affection for Kansas City.

Additional lectures are, at least nominally, about the invention of the computer, the digital camera, and Pandora Internet radio. From my experience at the spring lectures, I would expect these topics to be a starting point to explore some pretty interesting and provocative issues around the ideas of innovation and discovery.

And the speakers behind the topics are no slouches—the guy talking about the invention of the digital camera is actually the inventor of the digital camera and the Pandora talk will be given by Pandora’s “Chief Musicologist” emeritus, the guy hired in 2000 to architect the Music Genome Project. (The computer talk is given by novelist Jane Smiley, who also happens to have written a book on the topic.)

I’m not sure how these events are typically marketed. Ivy League alumni clubs were certainly involved in the spring, and that reflected in older, tweedier crowds than I typically see at innovation-based events around town. Remarkably, all these talks are free and open to the public. Tickets are required, and apparently they do sell out. Put it on the calendar, and remember Linda Hall.

And it’s worth noting that, even if you can’t make it to the lectures, the Linda Hall is worth a visit for the rare book room. They have an enormous collection of rare and first edition scientific books dating back to the 15th century. And you can actually handle them and read them! Seriously, if you’re any sort of bibliophile, this place is an absolute treasure trove.

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Authenticity Is a Two-Way Street

Eric Melin and Mike Brown have a couple good posts on Scott Monty’s visit to SMCKC last week, which was really a pleasure to be a part of. He deftly mixed in social media truisms (“business strategy, not social strategy”) with original and inspiring campaign executions.

But a couple things struck me beyond the straight social components of the presentation.

First, Scott was the consummate brand representative for Ford and served as an unusual example of the critical relationship between social media and authenticity.

Usually, “authenticity” in social media means that a brand lets its hair down and interacts with people as people. It means cutting the corporate brand-speak and actually engaging. As Scott himself pointed out, people want to be spoken to like human beings.

Neither Average Joe nor hipster guru

Still, you never got the feeling that Scott Monty was the average guy, just keeping it real with the customers. Nor did you feel like he was some hipster creative marketing guru. You felt like he was Ford—a precise blend of heritage, comfort, forward thinking, and approachability. But also that he was genuinely, authentically Scott Monty.

Companies always want to hire good people, but in a social world, hiring the kind of people you want to be is more important than ever.

Another thing that stood out is how Ford uses conventional market research tools in addition to digital metrics to measure the effectiveness of social media campaigns and understand how they work.

Surveys may be out of vogue in a world of sentiment ratings and Klout, but Ford measures trust, quality perception and favorability ratings to understand how social media can have an impact beyond the sliver of its customers who follow @FocusDoug on Twitter or Like him on Facebook.

If social media truly is intended to support broader business strategy, it’s important to take a holistic view of insights and analytics, and it’s great to see Ford really taking that to heart.

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