More human, more often - Why AI is the key to your greatest thinking

In our new Pulse series, we gather thoughts from industry experts on trending research and innovation topics. This month, we look at how far AI has been adopted by the industry, what's next and what it means for brands and consumers.

How can brands use AI to keep up with consumers and quickly adapt to new issues and opportunities? Here’s what ChatGPT tells us:

“Brands can use AI to swiftly analyze consumer data and market trends, enabling them to rapidly respond to emerging issues and seize new opportunities.”

For a more nuanced answer, we spoke to experts working in research agencies and in-house to find out what their experience reveals about the impact of AI.

 


 

AI today

 

Jim Bulmer, Mindlab NED and former client-side insights leader, thinks that keeping up with customers is a constant today. “AI has to be part of the answer,” he tells us. “That could be matching existing and historical data to model the future or just embracing its full automation power.” But are brands moving in this direction?

Mohsen Ghasempour is Group AI Director at international home improvement company, Kingfisher, which includes Screwfix and B&Q in its portfolio of brands. From a customer perspective, the company has released an AI-powered virtual assistant which answers DIY questions, gives advice and shows the products needed to tackle particular projects. But Mohsen says it’s what’s going on in the background that has the greatest potential to supercharge the business.

“We’re looking at how to harness AI to carry out tasks that don’t need humans,” he reveals. For instance, if there’s an item people regularly buy, AI could sift through the millions of SKU codes in a store to pinpoint what else might be needed and recommend it. “But everyone is only scratching the surface of what’s possible,” Mohsen believes.

 

“We’re looking at how to harness AI to carry out tasks that don’t need humans…But everyone is only scratching the surface of what’s possible.”

“It’s not massive yet,” agrees Danny Sims, Chairman at DJS Research, “but things are starting to happen fairly quickly.” The agency is looking at how it can improve processes to become more efficient, but it will be years before its full power is unlocked.

“What we do as an agency is very bespoke and ‘real’ for each of our clients – every questionnaire and piece of analysis is unique. It is definitely starting to help though. We have already adopted AI to help us summarise transcripts and identify key themes for our analysis. So, we’re at a stage where it is helping us to work more efficiently, and I can only see it carrying on in this vein.”

Danny Sims

AI tomorrow

 

At Mindlab, we’re using AI to reinvent our own systems and services, reveals Joe Hilling, Director of Innovation: “We’ve integrated AI to improve knowledge access and process automation. Our advanced chatbot and analytic tools are uncovering deeper insights into data by identifying themes and sentiments with precision.”

This is just the starting point as AI is evolving so rapidly. “We’re training AI so it can grasp complex client needs, understand behavioural science, and even design and script experiments autonomously. Our goal is to enable this AI to interpret experiment outcomes to deliver meaningful insights.”

Andre Leb

Consumer insights platform, Prodege, is using AI beyond streamlining processes too. “We created an entirely new category in research,” says André Leb, Chief Business Marketing officer, “We haven’t even named them yet! But it includes a conversational quant survey where our AI is trained to ask probing qual-type questions along the way for deeper insights.”

The company’s solution starts off with researchers verbally describing their project objectives to a bot. It comes back with an entire project proposal that can be edited before the survey launches to thousands of respondents simultaneously. “It’s pretty exciting, pretty disruptive,” Andre says. “I think people fear that AI is a replacement for researchers but I don’t: I think it’s going to allow researchers to do a lot more research and go into greater depth on their topics of interest. Nobody wants to spend time with manual repetitive work!”

Also from Prodege and onboard with embracing AI is Heather O’Brien, Senior Director of Client Solutions. “What we collect, amongst which crowd, how we curate that and how we convey it: AI can help with all those elements of research,” she says. “Until now, the industry has been using AI mostly in that curate section. That’s now exploded and AI is being used at each stage and through the whole chain. Whereas before, a person had to check every step, now AI can do that too and really speed things up at the same time as getting a better result.”

Another bespoke research agency, Syren, is using AI to help create foundational segmentations. “We’re using it quite a lot,” says Amanda Herbert, co-owner and director of the consumer insights agency. “What we’ve learned is that you have to ask AI to segment in different ways so you end up with lots of different types of segmentation. Then the AI is put to one side and we come together and wrap our heads around what it is telling us and what it means for the client.”

The heart of the matter

 

That is the crux of what everyone has been telling us: AI will always require people. Mindlab’s Jim sees this in action every day: “There is a huge difference between asking people a question and then observing what they actually do in practice. How can AI possibly use data alone to interpret behaviour?”

Amanda Herbert

Amanda from Syren thinks that where AI excels is shortcutting analysis.

“It’s brilliant at that but it’s never going to replace the thinking that comes after,” she says. “AI is never going to beat years of expertise and understanding. Clients pay for the value that is locked up in our brains, in the recommendations and the thinking that you can only get from expert teams. AI can help you get to content to analyse but I don’t think it will ever be able to do the analysis and implications for you.”

“On a recent project, we created a segmentation using AI but then went into a stage of qual to deliver both a bird’s-eye perspective from experts/bartenders and with consumers in order to contextualise and enrich the framework we came up with.”

The good news for brands is that not only does it become easier and quicker to keep up with consumers, but cheaper too as they end up only paying for what researchers excel at: great thinking.

But there is a downside. Heather from Prodege believes research project timelines will drop from six months not long ago to six hours soon. That’s going to make the whole process cheaper and lead to the democratisation of insights. Small brands, challenger brands and entry products will have access to the same sort of insights as the previously untouchable big players. “Access to AI driven research means they need to watch out,” she warns. “It’s going to level the playing field.”

That’s a positive for consumers and it’s encouraging for the insights industry. “Because of the speed of work and the automation of admin, AI is going to liberate us to be insightful,” Heather says. “It allows us to be more human, more often. We’ll have time to focus on interpreting data, humanising it, and making meaning of it. And isn’t that why we all do this work?”

 

“It allows us to be more human, more often. We’ll have time to focus on interpreting data, humanising it, and making meaning of it. And isn’t that why we all do this work?”

 

Joe from Mindlab is excited about the future as we explore the potential of AI, advancing our tools thoughtfully and responsibly. “This doesn’t just increase our capabilities,” he says. “It transforms the way we deliver value to our clients.”

AI and how we use it in consumer research will develop but people will always offer our best hope of getting under the skin of the intricate, ever-evolving behaviour of other humans.

How can you use AI in your next research programme? Have a chat with us to find out more

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