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#5 The power of machine learning

16 December 2019

How has AI advanced in capability and how can machine learning be used to build brands and brand awareness? We share our insights from our conversation with Streetbees.

In this episode of our New Frontiers podcast series, we spoke to Oliver May, co-founder and COO of Streetbees.

Streetbees is a market research organisation that helps brands generate new growth opportunities by creating unique insights and product development opportunities across a different set of markets. Streetbees has over 2.6 million users or ‘bees’ across the globe who provide real-time insights in exchange for a fixed payment.

What did we learn about the role of machine learning in market research from our conversation with Oliver?

Sean Duffy
Head of Technology, Media and Telecoms at Barclays

Real-time insights open the door to accurate market research

Market research has been used by brands for decades to gain better insights into what the market is looking for, but also how they are performing. However, one of the biggest limitations with traditional market research is the delay in gathering the data.

Market research also often relies on claimed responses, which may differ from how the consumer felt at the point of purchase, while a focus group in a controlled setting inherently skews the nature of the feedback.

Consequently, the accuracy and scale of the response is reduced; in the moment of purchasing a product, consumers make many more decisions on the spot than they are likely to recall.

This is something that businesses have been struggling to understand.

Streetbees is one of the first organisations to use real-time insights. Users of Streetbees download an app onto their smartphones, and Streetbees is able to ask consumers questions put forward by different brands for in-the-moment insights.

For example, at the moment of purchasing, the Streetbees app might ask a consumer a series of short questions about why they are making a purchase, how they are feeling and what they are thinking in real time.

By doing this, the accuracy of the data is significantly improved, and aspects such as emotional and social context are taken into consideration which have been shown to be an enormous driver of consumers’ decision making.

Sustainability isn’t always as big a factor as consumers claim

Over the last decade, sustainability has become more and more of a focus area for many consumers and businesses. Recent Barclays research found that 68% of respondents^ believed sustainability was an important factor in their purchase decision making.

Despite claiming that sustainability is important, in many cases, consumers don’t act as they claim.

One of the insights Streetbees observed was that 80% of consumers claimed that sustainability was a driver for their purchasing decisions in supermarkets. When the same question was asked at the moment of purchase, only 4% said that sustainability actually influenced their decision making.

This difference between claimed and actual importance makes life especially difficult for brands who are trying to incorporate sustainability into their products. Granted, these brands will inevitably stand out compared to their competitor, but this could still cost them business when being compared on price.

Data handling is at the centre of AI scrutiny

To provide higher quality insights, the Streetbees app can collect a variety of data including photos and videos, as well as free-form comments from users.

Images collected from bees can be analysed by AI to identify the content of the photo. Free form comments, which are the primary source of data, are processed by machine learning to identify and quantify key words in the consumer responses.

Oliver went on to explain how data collection has become a hot topic in the technology sphere, and that machine learning has not been exempt from this. The implementation of GDPR in Europe is just one example of how organisations have to be more aware of how data is harvested and used.

Oliver raised concerns about the often opaque nature of data harvesting by some brands in return for free products or services which has led to consumers have become concerned about how their data is being used. Companies such as Streetbees have realised that there is a desire to move to a more transparent model when it comes to data handling, to tell consumers explicitly what their data is being used for and where it’s going. Having a transparent model empowers consumers, he said, and incentivises them to share their data, in exchange for a reward.

Machine learning provides researchers with the ability to process large quantities of data faster than ever, meaning the shift towards digital methods of consumer research seems inexorable.

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