Atomic Direct, LTD

Tech Needs TV

There was a post on Retail Wire this morning that pondered whether retailers will need traditional research once mobile tracking is “in place”. The question is interesting because it reveals a very common flaw in how people think about research.

Developing conclusions from mobile data is the equivalent of scientists reading the fossil record. When I was a kid, scientists had been observing the fossil record for hundreds of years. So, they really thought they knew what the truth was. Dinosaurs were reptiles, they had reptilian skin, they were cold blooded, lived isolated lives, and modern day lizards are their direct descendants.

Fast forward to 2011. I’m no paleontologist. But it’s my understanding that fossil prognosticators now believe that some (many) dinosaurs had feathers, that some (many) were herd animals, they were pretty fast moving, that some lived in family based units, and that birds essentially evolved from dinosaurs.

The original scientists weren’t bad at their jobs. In fact, they were brilliant. The problem was in the observed data. They created solid, grand theories from the observed facts they knew.

The Key to Observed Behavior is What You Can’t Observe. Paleontologists erred in their theories because there were thousands and millions of fossil truths they couldn’t see – they hadn’t yet been discovered or analyzed.

Let’s get honest about how little we can truly learn from mobile data. No matter how hard we work, pure observational research misses a HUGE amount of learning that is critical to increasing profitability. And without that data we mis-lead ourselves into erroneous conclusions.

Then, as we create grand unified retail theories from this data, its my experience that behavioral data becomes a type of departmental Rorshach test. Your company is likely to project onto the research the things that help individual careers. Or, it may project the results of your latest session with a highly paid consultant. What’s least likely is that it finds actionable consumer truths.

And so, wise companies will continue to rely first and foremost on data that helps us see motivation. Because motivation is the key to changing profit in big ways. (At the same time, bring on the mobile! Mobile data offers opportunity for some fun and interesting bits of learning about store organization – although I’d probably get much more from Paco Underhill-style teams of in-store observers.)

Please, let’s ignore this impulsive idea that mobile tracking is any more valuable than traditional data. The long term retail winners will continue to be those who best know how to learn from research then have good judgement in the actions they take.

Copyright 2011 – Doug Garnett


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Doug Garnett, DRTV and Technology Industry Expert

Doug Garnett is founder and CEO of DRTV agency Atomic Direct and a leading expert on innovative uses of DRTV, infomercials and other in-depth TV and non-TV messages to build brand and drive sales.

Doug has been working in and around the technology field for 27 years. After starting in aerospace, he spent 5 years selling and marketing supercomputers. Since shifting to advertising, his clients have included AT&T, IBM, Apple, Disney Mobile, Ugobe, Presto, and Netpliance.

Doug sits on the editorial board of Response Magazine, is an adjunct professor of general advertising at Portland State University, and is a member of the Jordan-Whitney Greensheet Panel.

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