Tapping New Sources or Customer Insight
The science of gathering marketing insight has come a long way from executives standing behind a one-way mirror listening to a group of strangers discuss products. In fact, many of the companies that have developed new technology for collecting such information cast doubt upon whether focus groups work at all.

When scientists want to learn about animals, lab experiments are useful, but not as insightful as observation in the wild. These examples of new ways to gather customer insight take the same path, under the theory that the only way to learn people's honest and natural opinions is outside the traditional researcher-led group setting.

How Does That Make You Feel?
Psycho-ethnography sounds like the title of a college class, but it's a new twist on the traditional focus group methods, and helps companies understand how customers differentiate between brands by prodding them the way a therapist would. Insight Research Associates published a report detailing work it did for Universal Studios Florida, comparing the theme park's customers to those of Disney World and other Orlando theme parks. It combined traditional surveys with experiential research, by observing people as they interacted with the attractions, as well as psychological questioning that included word association, choosing images to describe each experience, and tiered questioning to dig deeper into subconscious emotions. The added insight caused Universal to change its marketing to appeal to families with young children who want more than a visit to fantasyland, and to emphasize the participatory nature of the park's rides and attractions. The pharmaceutical industry has used similar methods to learn about its customers, going through medicine cabinets and watching people at home to learn more about them.

Read Even the Best Poker Face
Some people are better at reading faces than others, but technology is catching up to even the best judge, helping advertisers determine what people really see and how they really feel. For publishers, click-through rates can indicate how many people interacted with an ad, but not how many actually looked at it. In print, that number is even harder to pinpoint-until now anyway. Companies like MediaAnalyzer place cameras that can track where a test subject's eyes are looking next to computers, newspapers, magazines, and other types of media. The results tell publishers (and subsequently advertisers) where different types of people are likely to look first, how far they read before moving on, and what piques their interest.

Testing the Vital Signs
Doctors don't rely on a patient's word to diagnose an illness, and now marketers don't have to rely on their customers' word about what they like or dislike; they can diagnose customers' feelings with the same equipment that doctors use. Neuroscience is the research method du jour, and a number of technology firms are offering companies the ability to see people's brain waves and heart rates as they use a product or view an advertisement. Companies from Coca-Cola to Nintendo are asking test subjects to strap on these devices, hoping they'll learn more from the machines than from a survey or question-and-answer session.

Combining Technologies
At a recent Audience Research Foundation event, Innerscope Research presented a case study on the results of using both biometric tracking and eye tracking software to determine the response to a Heineken ad. The study found that men's emotional response went up when the beer was shown and when a woman in the ad appeared on screen, so the company changed the ad to feature the man handing the beer to the woman so that both would appear together. Through the use of eye tracking, Heineken also found that the men were more likely to look at the left side of the screen than the right, so that's where they placed the beer at the end of the ad.