Lab Splendour Event: New technologies & new methodologies

November 19, 2014

Source:  La tete au carre, Oliver Bareau, (Creative Commons)

On the back of Neale’s trip to ESOMAR, we held a Splendour in The Lab session to explore the cutting edge of market research at a global standard. ESOMAR provided us with a first-hand glance into how the consumer and social research landscape is changing.  Five of the ESOMAR papers in particular have interesting bearings on the work we do here at The Lab, particularly in two emerging areas: new technologies and new methodologies.

Background image source: 'In another world entirely': Kadhim Shubber wearing the Google Cardboard headset. Photograph by Katherine Rose for the Observer Katherine Rose/Observer

New Technologies

Facial Coding Technology

We kicked off the session with a foray into the world of facial coding technology, or rather the process of using technology to gain insights into consumers’ implicit emotions and attitudes. This seems to be an area on the cusp of kicking off, aided by the rising interest of technology in neuroscience.

Facial coding is a technology that helps us to avoid self-reporting in research and the inherent issues associated with it, such as misremembering the past and navigating the pressures of social conventions.

Gaining a more quantitative basis for understanding emotion, facial coding has some interesting implications for qualitative research and we were left with plenty of food for thought on how to “Lab-ify” this techonolgy.

Virtual Reality

We have previously discussed the many possibilities of the Oculus Rift for brands – from virtual travel in the travel industry to amazing immersive videos that build brands.  As the hype around the Oculus continues to grow, we’re wondering: is it more than just hype? What is it about the Rift that makes virtual reality such an enticing prospect?

Firstly, the Rift will not be a clunky, heavy and expensive piece of equipment to own. In fact, early indications show it will retail for around $300, and be available to the consumer in time for Christmas 2015. The accessibility of the Oculus Rift will no doubt shape it’s applicability across many spheres of life: it has officially moved beyond the gamer’s world.

There is increasing interest in how this fully immersive, highly accessible technology can be applied in research.  It has already been applied to immersive therapy in curing phobias, and to empathy training where one company pulled off a virtual reality gender swap. This got us thinking: how could this piece of tech help us create a more immersive and empathetic understanding of consumers, and the world they occupy?

Background image source: 'The Crowne Plaza Hanalei Wedding Specialist, Crowne Plaza San Diego Hanalei

New Methodologies

New constructs for age

Our conversation then turned to exploring new research methods specifically in recruiting participants. One of the most interesting papers presented at ESOMAR this year looked at the difference between chronological age and perceived age as a factor in understanding the consumers we speak to.

Recruitment is often set around clearly defined identity constructs with age being an important factor. However, by what criteria do we judge age? By the number on our birthday card, or by the age we feel, the age we most relate to?

The theory of perceived age is based on the premise: ‘age is a mindset, rather than a physical state’ (Shiffman and Sherman, 1991). Part of the attraction of this idea is it seems so intuitively correct – what does ’40’ feel like? How different is it supposed to feel from say 25, or 75?

According to the paper, there are four ways to define perceived age:

1.  How old do you feel

2.  How old do you think you look

3.  What age group do your activities and interests most closely match?

4.  How closely do your interests align to your (or another) age?

As we see the traditional master narrative being continually broken down and redefined, it makes sense that we need new ways to mark life stages.  The idea that we could potentially redefine traditional identity constructs, and with that, reach a more interesting insight around mindsets and attitudes, is an exciting one for a group of brainstorming researchers like us!

However, it is not without its limitations. While we’re keen to restructure and re-think the way we do things, there will always be a need to make these applicable in the ‘real world’. It’s highly likely that at some point, we’ll need to translate perceived age back to chronological age, for example when helping clients with communication strategies and advising on media buying. Yet recruiting by perceived age could still become an effective strategy for projects focussing on mindsets and attitudes. There are a multitude of applications in this respect and we had a great time throwing some new ideas around.

If you’d like to know more about what came out of our Splendour event, what else went on at ESOMAR, or how we could work together, please contact us.



Schiffman, L. & Sherman, E. (1991) “The Value Orientation of New-Age Elderly: The Coming of an Ageless Market”, Journal of Business Research, 22 (2), pp. 187-194