A novel approach to market intelligence: games and prizes, but not gamification

On a recent trip to Dublin, I met a cool startup, Upfront Analytics (UFA), which is creating a mobile game platform designed to deliver market intelligence. They’ve developed a really novel approach that reveals latent opinions of consumers and encourages honest answers to research questions. How? By creating a game platform which is free to play, but that gives real prizes to players. The games are designed in such a way to reward honest participation.

The company has launched a mobile (currently Android only) game platform “The Pryz Manor” which comprises several games and activity centers. The games are inspired by popular board or parlor games and similar in a way to popular mobile games like “words with friends” or “draw something”. Unlike those games, you don’t play with someone you know — when you select a game you are matched up against an anonymous competitor, which helps prevent people “gaming” the system. Most of each game is centered solely on fun for the players, but about 20% of each game is designed to gather market intelligence.

For example, one game — Name Dropper — requires players to guess words or phrases based on clues provided by another player, within a time limit. The player providing the clues uses words that are predefined, some of which carry the equivalent of time penalties. For example, if I was trying to get someone to guess the word Guinness, while I might think of it as “nectar of the Gods,” that phrase might not be available, and might not actually help someone else guess the word. So, I’d be more likely to choose words like “beer”, “black”, and “Irish” in the hopes that it would be more obvious to my team mate. You can bet that those words, if available, would eat in to the time that we’d have available.

The neat thing is that companies can use the game to see which attributes players select most often about their company, or about their competitors. To take a different example, if you gave the same attributes to different groups of players about Coke and Pepsi, or Target and Walmart, or British Airways and Emirates Airlines, the words players select to help the other person guess says much more than having people answer a survey question about “which of these attributes do you associated with brand x”. And, likewise, being able to track which words help people guess most quickly and most often (e.g. do people respond to Starbucks as “premium” or “expensive”) indicates perceived brand attributes that are far more real than survey answers.

Other games allow Upfront Analytics to help firms compare brands, products, and services; understand product combination affinities; estimate pricing tolerance; gauge market awareness; assess product sentiment; track and forecast trends; as well as ask traditional market research questions, while examining the data across a plethora of demographic or other segmented forms of data.

I’ve already started playing their games and I see immense potential. I’m hoping to partner with the UFA team to uncover consumer attitudes around topics relevant to consumer-oriented businesses — topics such as loyalty, preference, privacy, personal data, and brand trust. If you have ideas of what I should be digging in to, please email, tweet, or comment below. I’ll tag the findings with “UFA” for those of you that wish to follow along. Also, consider downloading it and playing yourself if you have an Android device.



It’s AboutTheData, stupid

About the dataToday (or yesterday by the time I post this), Acxiom released a beta version of a site/service they have called AboutTheData. It’s both a brilliant and relatively simple concept, but certainly the first of it’s kind in the marketing arena. Natasha Singer trailered the service in an article in Sunday’s NY Times. In short, it’s a portal that allows consumers to view some of the data that Acxiom compiles about them, to correct it if they wish to, or to opt out of its use for marketing purposes.

Acxiom bills the service in terms of relevance. The home page splash reads: “If you want to get the best advertising delivered to you, based on your actual interests, start here.” Once you identify yourself — using your name, date-of-birth, address, and last four digits of your social security number — Acxiom will then show you “the data used to fuel many of the marketing offers you receive” from Acxiom clients.

Acxiom divides the data they share into six categories of data: characteristic, home data, vehicle data, economic data, shopping data, household interests.

Here are my thoughts on the concept and execution so far:

  1. It’s an awesome concept. Acxiom gets first mover advantage and moral high(er) ground over its competition. As one of the largest data compilers in the country, this will likely force every competitor’s hand to follow suit.
  2. It’s a decent start. The information provided is by and large clear, mostly accurate — in my case, at least — and the user interface and ease-of-use was carefully designed — no mean feat for a company that has never tried to be a consumer brand.
  3. It shows immense courage. Acxiom provides people the opportunity to opt-out of having their data used by Acxiom and it’s clients. Yes, they explain that opting out will not prevent consumers from seeing ads, it’ll just mean that ads will be less relevant, but still, some consumers will opt out just because they are freaked out! And, to Acxiom’s credit, they don’t hide the opt out form in some dark corner — it’s prominent on every page of the site.
  4. There’s runway for improvement. To be fair, this is a day-old service that’s still in beta, but there are some real opportunities to take this in multiple directions. One area would be the opportunity to add information about yourself. If I really want these relevant messages, let me give you more information about me. Acxiom pegged me as living in a household with an interest in aerobics. While that’s certainly inaccurate, I do enjoy cycling, swimming, scuba diving, golf, kayaking, and a host of other activities that they haven’t tagged me with. Wouldn’t it create even more relevant advertising if I could somehow inform Acxiom of these things. How else do I expect it to improve? With regards to the length of time it takes for changes to take effect, Acxiom updates the information on the screen immediately, but point out that it takes 90 − 120 days for the changes to take place in all systems. While I applaud their honesty, I can’t help but lament the fact that consumers are giving this golden information that might not benefit them for 4 months!
  5. It’s open to backlash. When Acxiom introduced the newly refreshed Infobase-X a few years ago, they heralded the 1,600 elements of data in hundreds of categories. Assuming they still have the same depth and breadth of data, never mind if there’s more, Acxiom is only sharing a fraction of that data with consumers. If consumers start to wonder what else Acxiom knows about them, how much will they be willing to share? And, despite their desire to be pegged as the poster children of transparency, there’s still room for clarity. In explaining where they get their data, one of the sources is “general data from other commercial entities where consumers have been provided notice of how data about them will be used and offered a choice about whether or not to allow those uses.” OK then, that’s clear!

Overall, this is a laudable undertaking. Credit bureaus had to be mandated into providing an annual credit report to consumers for free, but they don’t give the level of detail that Acxiom is sharing voluntarily. Other vendors such as the likes of BlueKai have offered something along these lines for some time, but it’s anonymous data based on browser activity. It certainly doesn’t know who you are, validated with the last four digits of your social security number (one more potential area of backlash might be when consumers question how Acxiom knows the last four digits of their social).

I expect this initiative to have a significant ripple effect across the marketing and data ecosystem. How can you prepare?

  • Prepare to make the data that you have about your customers available to them. There’s no reason to believe that this will remain a data broker/compiler phenomenon. If I as a consumer can find out from Acxiom what they know about me, why wouldn’t I expect to find out the same from my bank, my favorite shopping destinations, my cellphone company, my insurance company, etc.
  • Think hard about the value that you deliver to customers. If you can’t explain it and describe it; yet you end up showing them all the data you have about them, prepare to lose access to it.
  • If you’re going to send people to your privacy policy as justification or explanation for the data that you capture and what you do with it, make sure it could be read and understood by an average person.
  • If you do go down this road and provide visibility into your data, treat customer access as an engagement. Use it as an opportunity to update other preferences — how often do they like to be contacted? In which media/channels? With what types of information?

Just when you thought it couldn’t get more interesting, the world of marketing data just experienced what might prove to be a tectonic shift. Buckle up and ride the ripples!



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