GRIT Commentary: Killing the Error of Omission

Market Research, Qualitative Research


We are wrong and we know it.  Marketing research has always been plagued by error and assumptions; random sampling almost never is, all kinds of bias – observer, response, fatigue, scale.  The list of issues goes on and on.  Just as importantly, marketing research has been wrong by omission; that is to say that we could only ask questions – and evaluate the answers. At the end of the day, it is a calculated and reasonable “wrong”. 

But we are getting better… and that shows no sign of slowing.  Some of the improvements over the past several years are about the process (better sampling, improved questions); many others are about killing the error of omission – and to L&E, this is the exciting part.

New sources of data about consumers allow for vectors of knowledge that did not exist even 3 or 4 years ago.  Behaviors can be established from any number of sources: mobile tracking, receipt scanning, in-store video – the list goes on and on.  Social Media allows a sneak peek into peoples’ lives that lets us see how they wish to be perceived – and not just through their words, but also the images they associate with their life.  Emotions and the emotional triggers can be identified through non-conscious methods from facial coding, to neuro methods and wearables.

As costs continue to fall from competitive pressure and technological advances (I just saw a Virtual Reality viewer for $20), it will be easier to put more of these pieces together to get a clearer picture of the “whole truth” – which has long been the goal in our industry.  Let’s take a look at two examples.

Eye tracking technology lets us identify the area of a document or image that is getting attention.  Facial coding technology allows us to understand the emotion a person is feeling at a particular point in time.  Independently, each of those technologies answers an important question.  Together they answer the question of the specific driver of that emotion.  One particular client takes it a step further and integrates in-depth interviews based on laddering to understand the “why” of the emotional triggers.  In this example, there is little error of omission, as multiple approaches within a single respondent engagement have answered the what, the how, and the why. 

Behavioral research has generally been based on observation (expensive) or diaries (questionable).  The mobile phone and, in particular, mobile panels change all this.  Now, behavioral research can be conducted in connection with shopper journey, use tests, day in the life, etc., with reasonable completeness and accuracy.  Scanner technology (the same kind used in Expensify) allows people to scan their store receipts instead of using a diary for their purchases.  Each of these methods provides valuable information about a person’s life.  The combination of these two methods provides a more holistic perspective of a person’s consumption life – as it lays out multiple places, multiple experiences, and multiple purchases – in the context of all their purchases (not just a category).  The error of omission is still there, but smaller and easier to forgive.

Understanding everything that motivates a person is hard.  Psychologists can spend years trying to understand someone and still not be comfortable that they have it right.  But we can get better at understanding – as we should – for our businesses, for our clients, and for consumers.

Market research is now particularly well positioned to do this using a holistic approach that combines qualitative, quantitative, behavioral, non-conscious and observational data; shifting the conversation from “we could be wrong for all of these reasons” to “we think we’re right for all of the data points we have to use”. That’s a big (and exciting) difference – and the GRIT data tells us it’s now a reality.