Broken Marketing and Said’s new Professor

Marketing is broken stated Said Business School’s new Professor of Marketing, Philip Andrew during his inaugural lecture last week in Oxford, but there is some hope.

said-lecture-2016

Whilst the overtone of his address was fairly positive there were cautionary notes.

1.Artificial intelligence is currently limiting choice for consumers and citizens, and so at present, may not deliver value for  stakeholders, which Prof Andrew proposed as being the core purpose of Marketing.

2. As marketers we need to reflect on the relevancy of the human touch in consumer interactions versus the outsourcing to robots and AI. Where and how technology fits and where it does not belong is currently not being addressed.

3.  Technology in marketing is being used as a ‘shiny new toy’  without consideration of the societal impact. Adblocking software as used by consumers is an indicator that marketing is not heeding societal dissatisfaction with advertising.

4. The industry, practitioners and academics need to  understand the positive impacts of digital technology in marketing. What are the economic benefits, the psychological benefits and the physiological benefits that improve societal wellbeing that marketing can and does contribute to?

Prof Andrew’s comments in essence were not new but he drew together a set of ideas and presented them as his ‘Marketing with Purpose’ concept  in which marketing approaches, digital technology and data work together to create value for people, business and society. His lecture was well received by the largely under 30 year old audience but whether and how they take his words forward  to ‘mend’ marketing  remains to be seen.

said-marketing-with-purpose-2016

Getting down and dirty with social media data and NodeXL

Over the last few weeks I have been getting down and dirty with social media data and trialing new software – NodeXL.  Here are a few of my reflections as a digital researcher.

It is hard to estimate the time needed, not only because  the project I am working on is exploratory but also because I do not have the necessary new software skills.  As a result and unsurprisingly (you’d have thought I’d know better as an experienced academic) the work is now behind my over optimistic schedule.

Exploratory research and analytical software make strange bedfellows,  not knowing what the data will comprise of, how much of it there will be or what you will be able to demonstrate. NodeXL is  an open source template, offered by the Social Media Research Foundation through which you can create semantic  network visualisations. There is both a free version and a pro, paid for version – the latter allows you to investigate more social media platforms by pulling the API stream of social media data into the software and then performing various manipulations on the data which can end up looking  like this. image below.

The Social Media Research foundation is a US based response to the need for accessible, rigorous  tools for academics to research social media but who do not have large enough budgets to pay for the proprietary  commercial tools now available. node-xl-image-vague

Second, the quantity of social media data scrapped from Twitter and Instagram on just one specific hashtag  is copious and the data need significant cleaning – filtering out non English posts and commercial posts requires reading of the raw material as there are not automatic filters which can do this.

raw-social-media-data

Third, ordering the social media data into manageable sized files in date order per platform is important and from then creating  one giant file per platform scrape is also important.  My learning from this aspect  – take data piece by piece and ensure you can trace it back.

Fourth, the ability to capture social media images is potentially highly valuable BUT out of   context and without the words and posters who give the images their grounding, the images remain  meaningless.

Fifth, admitting that help is required and finding an expert who can help or offer advice in how to maximise the value from your data and analytical tools is worthwhile, even if it means acknowledging that you need help. Luckily in my case I have both Marc Smith one of the writers of NodeXL based in the USA, and Wasim Ahmed  @was321, a Sheffield University doctoral student who is an expert at handling NodeXL data and answered some of my queries, even though his subject area is not Marketing.

Getting close and dirty with these social media hashtag data has provided me with more questions, but also  insight which will be developed into a paper for 2017 submission. Yes it would be easier to pay someone to ‘do it’ for me but then I would find justifying the method and explaining the rigour impossible.

European SMEs digitalisation study results

Our research team have been busy finalising results from our European SME digitalisation study over the last couple of months and finally here they are. We have been interested in gaining insight into how SMEs adopt and embed digital technologies through their firms and their perceptions of any value derived from doing so.  A short overview report of the main findings which we sent to the participants from the four countries involved (Britain, Spain, Italy and Ireland) can be found on Researchgate.net  or here.

growing-plants

Whilst we have a lot more in depth analysis to conduct on both the 43 interviews and 357 completed surveys key themes have already emerged. We were expecting to find large between country differences but there were few, mostly around the preference for certain digital tools for communication.

  1. Smaller firms share many similarities despite operating in differing industry sectors and different countries.
  2. Smaller firms see the potential for digitalisation across their whole firm not just within the Marketing function.
  3. Smaller firms as yet  have not realised the potential of digitalisation.
  4. Smaller firms believe strongly in the attitudes of individuals within the firm driving the adoption of digital technologies.

As we delve further into the data we will be creating both academic frameworks to develop scholarship on the subject and  also actionable insight for smaller firms to assist them in making the most of adopting digital technologies.

i-heart-digital

Quandaries over real time in digital research

Recently I have been having a few quandaries over real time in digital research, and thinking about temporality generally, not least because I have a research colleague in Australia and thus our interactions are always proceeded by sorting out time differences across continents.

time-slipping

Whilst we as digital  researchers, marketers and digital enthusiasts talk about real time as in immediate, synchronous interactions, how many of our interactions are really in real time? Technology and how it interacts may be synchronous but  how it is actually used may not be. Someone can send me a WhatsApp message  but I may look at it five minutes later. An email can be sent, received but not read or responded to until after a cup of coffee is finished or a meeting held. On the other hand a Skype interview is synchronous and real time. Does it matter whether behaviour or responses  are synchronous, near  synchronous or asynchronous? Does  synchronous versus asynchronous data impact on the quantity or content of that collected data? The ability to track real time online shopping behaviour is highly valuable for online retailers and their brands and the real time manipulation of promotional campaigns is a triumph of technology. However, as researchers do we require such acceleration and ‘nowness’?

white-rabbit-and-clock

Authors who have discussed technology’s impact on time and ‘nowness’ include Manuel Castell’s The Rise of the Networked Society in which Castell outlines the concept of flows  rather than time where global interactions occur simultaneously and society becomes compressed by the speed of technologies transforming patterns of consumption, economic markets and societies.This technological determinism is argued against by  Judy Wajcman, amongst others, who in her recent text Pressed for Time which emphasises how technologies are supposed to be freeing us and that citizens should revisit their relationship with time.

real-time

As a digital researcher what is my relationship with time, what is my temporality?  Different research projects  require  data which may be real time or distant time. One of my doctoral students is considering complaint behaviour on social media concerning disappointing luxury experiences and grappling with whether she needs synchronous or asynchronous data.  Do you tweet at the point of disappointment or do you  email the brand  a few moments later or do you write a  poor review and post it on Tripadvisor days later? And furthermore what is impact of ‘nowness’ versus near now versus later on the research data generated?

Progress on collaborative writing for digital research methods text

I promised to report back on how my collaborative  writing for the digital research methods text  for Sage was progressing, so here are  three observations thus far.

  1. Working with someone who thinks differently from you is great but challenging. The great part is that collectively you have more to contribute because you look at things from different perspectives. The challenging aspect is because this  different world view offered by your writing colleague results in you questioning and revisiting your own knowledge and beliefs, in research methods terms I have had to re-appraise my ontological positions. So as I am writing with someone from a quantitative predisposition, I have been asking myself where my underpinning beliefs about  research stem from, do I still hold the same beliefs now as previously etc – all of which is fairly important when writing a text  about digital research methods.book pile

2. Words as numbers.  We set ourselves a target of 5000 words per day between us during our face to face writing time, generally we achieved this with a couple of lower days and a couple of higher days. These were 5000 new words rather than  the editing or rewriting of existing text and I have become the word count enforcer in order to help us feel a sense of accomplishment  on a day  by day basis. Seeing the overall word count grow is satisfying, yes it is a draft but it is new material which as this stage is important.

3. Words and meaning. Some of our most lively and heated  discussions have been around words and their interpretation – I resolutely refuse to have the word ‘object’ used in relation to research, instead we have settled for research ‘phenomenon’. Similarly people involved in research can not (in my view) be termed ‘objects’ or ‘subjects’ – as it de-humanizes research participants, something which actually my co-author agrees with me on. Until we started writing and using words we did not have these discussions about how value laden or how open to interpretation key research vocabulary is. We are also now back in discussion about the title of our text as neither of us are very keen on Sage’s proposed title (currently under wraps) as we feel is does not do the subject and content justice.

In the next  progress reflection, structure and writing styles will  be centre stage, as well as our caffeine intake.

Social media enhances business performance in B2B

Having been asked by many different businesses if social media can enhance business performance, last year  a colleague and I  decided  to see if this was true. So we chose an industry that we are both interested in  – the wine industry and a platform that we felt was under researched – LinkedIn and had a look. Here’s what we found.wine shelves

LinkedIn activity does create value for wine industry professionals through their participation. This participation can be  through posing and answering specific questions, sharing industry trends and news, interacting with others on a regular basis and building both personal and firm brand reputation. We saw multiple examples of both reciprocity and also altruism within the professional wine  groups we investigated. Value was created through  both transactional relationships – short exchanges that resulted in  new information or a new contacts or an answer to a specific question over viticulture issues or distributor requests after which the parties disengaged and also developing longer term relationships in which  trust was incrementally developed. This finding contradicts much of the established thinking that only longer term relationships will provide real value between businesses. Our evidence demonstrated new contracts and bottom line impact occurring in transactional relationships as well as the longer relationship types. Business performance enhancement was also achieved through collaborative problem solving  between LinkedIn group members.

The practical takeaways from this for businesses deciding whether to invest time and energy in LinkedIn groups are:

  • Be prepared to participate regularly in groups to make contacts
  • Sharing information will increase trust
  • Groups can enhance both an individual’s brand, e.g. their own credibility in an industry as well as that of the brand they are employed by
  • Short term ‘in and out’ relationships can be beneficial  but be honest about it

Here is our model, recently published in Industrial Marketing Management.

social media business perfromance IMM article 2015

If you’d like a copy of the full paper either search on Google scholar for, Quinton, S. and Wilson D. (2016). Tensions and ties in social media networks: Towards a model of understanding business relationship development and performance enhancement through the use of LinkedIn, Industrial Marketing Management, 54, pp.15-24. or email me at sequinton@brookes.ac.uk

‘Mirror mirror on the wall’- the quantified self

The recent upsurge in interest in self-tracking digital technologies, including apps has got me thinking about the quantified self and I am not alone in this. Deborah Lupton has a new book coming out in April 16 entitled The Quantified Self: a sociology of self-tracking cultures  which I look forward to reading.

What drives us to constantly monitor our health related activities, our blood pressure, the steps walked or our sleeping patterns. Why are so many people collecting and then sharing data on their goal setting , their achievements and their mental well being (or lack of it)? Whether it be via an app on our mobiles or a wearable device from the likes of Jawbone, Fitbit, Nike’s Fuel Band or the Chinese Xiaomi  personal data, like never before, is now being collected, stored and shared. Apparently if this data is called personal and not health data it gets round many legal issues across several countries, though of course it is health data. Have we become more narcissistic or is it just that the digital technologies make it so much easier for us to monitor ourselves in the quest to become the optimal human being (what ever that might be)? Shouldn’t  we  pause and reflect on this   datafication of  ourselves.

self tracking imageJohn Naughton  in The Observer recently highlighted the example of  a Christian focused American University in Tulsa, Oklahoma, now requiring new students to wear Fitbits apparently to monitor their fitness levels. Corporate encouragement of employees to wear self-tracking products is also in the increase, indeed my own university  has entered into this arena by holding an annual team competition for all staff using wearables. Incentivising the wearing and thus monitoring of those wearing these devices is also creeping in across sectors, executives are ‘given’ devices and HR functions may then  receive reports on activity or  stress levels.

Surely we should consider, before we download the app, or strap the device to our bodies, what data is being collected?, have I really given permission for the data to be collected?, how will the data be treated once collected? who owns the data?  and with whom might it be shared? Ownership of the data  is frequently blurred between the individual,  the brand owner of the tracking product, the analytical platform used  and also other third parties including government agencies, depending on which country you live in.

wearables

A very interesting study has just been completed in Canada, led by the University of Toronto, which investigated fitness tracker data privacy (https://openeffect.ca/reports/Every_Step_You_Fake.pdf). The study  found that certain leading brands of  fitness wearables did leak data. Many of the devices emitted a bluetooth unique identifier which  could be tracked by beacons. The study also found that data could be intercepted and tampered with, something the health insurance companies which use fitness wearables to offer lower premiums should recognise.

So mirror mirror on the wall – who is the fittest/fairest/smartest of them all? Oh wait you already know……

Ethical dilemmas in digital research

As part of my university wide role as Chair of Research Ethics I am increasingly facing questions about ethical dilemmas in digital research, some of which I thought I’d share in my  next  2 or 3 blog posts. So to kick off I am starting with issues around participant recruitment platforms and crowd working.

Accessing research participants for any primary research is undoubtedly getting harder and response rates are falling fast!  Digital technologies can play a role in alleviating this but care needs to be taken. The first issue which I have been grappling with is participant recruitment and the use of third party platforms through which to either recruit participants and or  gather research data through, such as online research questionnaires. These are now plentiful across all subject disciplines and  are based on three business models.

1) A research institute or university platform designed to facilitate research, which may have open or closed access and usually requires an university email address (e.g.www.callforparticipants.com)

2) A spin off from number one type which has been developed as a small business  such as the Oxford University Software incubator firm (e.g.www.prolific.com)

3) A purely commercial platform aimed at academic research which claim to be approved by university ethics committees or IRBs (Institution Research or Review Boards in the USA) (e.g. www.socialsci.com)

These various models  become more complicated when you  unpick their various payment options. Some are entirely free, some are free to upload your questionnaire but each response costs the researcher money or the respondent benefits through a reward system, points for questionnaire completion which equals discount vouchers etc. Another type charges a fee to post your research and also charges per completion of questionnaire. A further variation is the fremium model, sign up for a basic free version but subscribe for the useful version such as www.socialsci.com. Many use Paypal as the payment intermediary which, for some universities, causes concern in the finance department. Furthermore some UK universities are concerned about the storage of the research data on these platforms, their stability and the security of the data. Various other quality and ethical issues arise from these platforms. Very few are explicit about which, if any, research organisations ethics policy they comply with such as ESOMAR, MRS, AoIR etc. The pool of participants who sign up to participate on these platforms  are highly self-limiting, and are unlikely to be representative of the desired target sample – unless you are looking for students or retiree silver surfers. Additionally, some platforms offer significant cash  incentives to people who refer participants on to the site.

mechanical turk ad

At a whole other level is Amazon’s Mechanical Turk operation (Mturk). This ‘job completion’ platform works on the basis that activities which need completing are posted to this internet marketplace by organisations, people can then browse and complete these tasks for payment or Amazon gift vouchers (depending on which country the workers are located in). Third party organisations have become involved whereby workers are contracted to the third party to complete multiple different Mturk activities and the third party retains most of the payment for the completion. Mturk is being used by academic researchers for certain types of studies, including structured questionnaires. Academic journal editors have very differing views on the appropriateness of using this platform, some regard this as a legitimate tool in the digital economy, others see it as a flawed approach with the potential for becoming embroiled in digital sweatshops. Further discussion on  crowdworking and the broader ethical implications can be found at

Mturk raises multiple ethical issues in the research context which are worth highlighting.

  1. Can we establish that those completing the task have been informed about the context of the research?
  2. Do those completing the task have free choice in whether or not to participate?
  3. To what extent is it necessary to inform those participating about how the data will be used and also the outcome of the research?
  4. Can the level of anonymity required be guaranteed?
  5. How can researchers using Mturk as a data collection tool guard against fraud?
  6. Will there be fair payment to those completing the tasks, when will they be paid etc?
  7. Sampling frames may be very distorted and inaccurate or even unknown to the researchers.

I don’t profess to have the answers to these research focused ethical dilemmas regarding conducting research within a digitalised world but at least we should know what questions to ask of ourselves and what questions to share with our research students.

Innovations in Digital Research Methods

I was delighted when  Innovations in Digital Research Methods edited by Peter Halfpenny and Rob Proctor recently crossed my desk. Whilst many research students believe Research Methods to be a necessary but boring compulsory element of their studies I am doing my utmost to promote the exciting times we now live in  in terms of digital’s positive disruption to how and what we research.

innovations in digital  text book

A wide range of contributors from  British, Australian and American  based academics  have co-created the insight in this useful textbook published by Sage.    Like me,  the authors  believe that the landscape of research has fundamentally shifted with the advent of digital technologies  and they set about  outlining the new  e-social science landscape. Acknowledgement is made in chapter 2 of the increasing blurring of qualitative and quantitative data and the trend in treating qualitative data quantitatively in the analysis stage.   Warnings about a potential overreliance on computer driven analytical tools and algorithms that lack transparency  is an apposite reminder in chapter 3 with an interesting discussion on text mining in chapter 8. The new  sources and types of data are  outlined  in Chapter 4  with explicit consideration of the dangers of  the ubiquity  of data and its convenience in collection versus the need for rigor. There are sensible suggestions made for future directions,   such as an increase in use of mixed methods – which I am definitely seeing in my PhD students and in some conference presentations.

The nascent state of how we ‘show’ data through visualizations including real time geo-mapping of people’s movements in urban areas, citizen science creation of Open Street Map provides practical illustrations in chapter  11.  Unsurprisingly, ethical issues  within  digital research methods now have  greater complexity  than ever before  and the grey areas and abuses are presented through case studies in chapter 12  including the infamous Facebook experiment.

This text book is  a well balanced and considered response from active researchers grappling with the realities of researching and  justifying their research in the digital age.  The reference list and the online resources at the end of each chapter are valuable to the novice and experienced researcher alike.  This book will be marked as ‘essential’ on the reading lists for my  Research Methods and for Digital Marketing Strategy  courses.

Technology on holiday and travelling robots

Getting away from it all takes on a new meaning with this hotel concept in Japan. Whilst we are all used to various forms of technology on holiday, this new venture is really fascinating. A hotel staffed (almost entirely) with robots near  Nagasaki. From the front desk check-in manned by a collection of speaking robots including a dinosaur, to the distribution of luggage to rooms by small slow moving carriers, down to individual room concierges comprising table top doll-like robots acting as alarm clocks and weather informants., this is a very different hotel experience.

robothotelhennana

A face scanner recognition system is used for room entry and a selection of the usual Japanese vending machines  are the options available for food.

The longer term  plan, according to the entrepreneurial owner, Hideo Sawada, is to have a chain of these hotels with humanoid robots offering customer service and increasingly sophisticated person-robot interactions. At approx £48 a night I would definitely seek it out on a trip to Japan – it’s now officially on my technology  bucket list.

On a rather more downcast note, though still robot connected, I was sad to read today of the demise of hitchBOT. HitchBOT was a wonderful experiment to test the kindness of strangers through designing a robot which relied on people giving it rides to destinations as it tried to make its way across America. HitchBOT successfully travelled across Canada where he originated from,  in 2014.  Largely powered by solar panels HitchbBOT took regular photos on his travels and posted them to social media platforms and earned  62,000 followers on Twitter for his efforts. @hitchBOT if you are interested.  People could track his progress via GPS. He was fairly distinct in real life  – made from a modified bucket, and had an LED-powered smiling face. The hitchhiking device was easily identifiable with its blue arms and legs, offset by yellow wellington boots and gloves.  He was a fairly quiet travelling companion although he did have some basic language skills.

hitchBOT

Sadly it appears that he was attacked and de-capitated recently in Philadelphia, and his surviving parts have been returned to his creators at Ryerson University Toronto. Let’s hope he resumes his brave journey soon.