Recently, I was in the car, half listening to talk radio, but mostly in deep think mode trying to develop a topic for this column. Since this is the end-of-the-year newsletter, I was heading down the traditional path of “Top 10 Research Trends for the New Year.” Industry buzzwords sprang to mind — and, wahoo! – the article would write itself:
- Marketing Insights
- Predictive Analytics
- Social Media Metrics
- Location-based Tracking (GIS)
I was starting to feel pretty good – all I needed to do was put a little meat on the bones and ship it to the editor. Then someone talking on the radio broke my reverie. An interview with Ray Kurzweil – the man the
Wall Street Journal described as “the restless genius,” and who Forbes called “the ultimate thinking machine”. The Ray Kurzweil who pioneered optical character recognition technology, text-to-speech synthesis and is considered by most experts to be one of the major contributors to the field of artificial intelligence. Dr. Kurzweil’s interview was a subtle pitch for his new book entitled
How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed (full disclosure … I just sent Santa a note letting him know that this is a late addition to my list). In the interview, Kurzweil prognosticated that the rapid acceleration of learning in such fields as neuroscience and cognitive psychology, combined with continuing advances in electronics miniaturization and data-mining technologies will inevitably result in a computer which can be implanted directly into the human brain. He thinks it could be done soon, my recollection from the radio show is that he’s guessing by 2025.
Now it’s time to get excited! Or maybe scared. What will this mean for Marketing and Marketing Research? An individual’s pattern of thought will be directly captured and stored on a piece of silicon. And if a person “opts in,” maybe they’ll want to share their thoughts and the patterns of their shopping and decision process. Imagine someone shopping in store, and they mentally (perhaps even subconsciously) call up a competitor’s website to check on a product feature or a price. And imagine that the marketer is able to remotely detect and analyze that individual’s decision pattern and can instantly provide a stimuli … a message, an offer, a testimonial … to simultaneously influence cognition and behavior. And what if this “thought experiment” is databased and subsequently analyzed along with millions of other Stimulus/Response experiments all conducted 1-on-1 in the real world?
Marketers could gain instant feedback and adapt their products and services to better meet the wants of their customers. And customers could turbo-boost their ability to shop smartly and identify the best options for each and every purchase decision. In a Utopian world, the promise of consumer-focused marketing could be realized.
Is it plausible? My overall sense is yes, it’s definitely in the realm of plausible … each of the component technologies have been established and the current innovation paths suggest that we’ll have the tools and processes to make it happen. Thinking about the “Top Trends for 2013” list suggests that existing technologies are already moving us down this path. Is it likely? Here, I’m not so sure. There are human and societal concerns … ethical and legal issues such as privacy which need to be considered and reconciled. And the human ability to identify and process the information “signal” in a growing sea of data noise may be reaching a limit … but perhaps that’s where assistance from the “brain chip” could come in!
So what happens to “Marketing Research” in this world that is only 17 years away? While today’s survey’s may not be the methodology de jour, it seems to me that the core functions of collecting, organizing, analyzing and interpreting data will certainly be critical in a future where marketers are inundated with raw data and need to transform that data into decision-oriented insights.
Maybe we’re already there.