Alexa’s New Job: Qualitative Research Moderator

How great is it to see the progress we’re making in marketing insights? Here’s a headline from a PR post on LinkedIn from today: Quester AI Moderator Introduced as an Alexa Skill, Breaking New Ground in Marketing Research

The big news is that marketing research firm Quester has run a successful pilot program with ConAgra, a company that along with Apple, Google, Amazon and Tesla, should immediately come to mind when you think “ground breaking” and “innovation.”

A snippet above the main headline informs us that “…now, Alexa can ask you questions. Qualitative Research. At scale. By voice. You’re welcome.”

First, credit where credit is due. The “scale” part of the equation is impressive. It’s the old telephone interview without the expense of human beings or the annoyance of cold calls. Presumably, respondents opt in and take the survey at their convenience. Voice recognition makes it even easier, eliminating the need to type.

So, lots and lots of interviews easier, faster and presumably cheaper. Good deal.

But it’s not qualitative in any sense. Isn’t collecting data, even if it is indeed “rich,” from “hundreds, even thousands of consumers in a matter of days” the very definition of “quantitative.”

Yes, AI allows a certain degree of probing, but it’s really a massive data dump. The point of qualitative is that it doesn’t scale. It’s a deep dive that aims to transcend the obvious, to discover what we don’t already know or understand what we do already know in a new context.

Take a look at their promotional video and try to forget for the moment that you’re watching the shallowest in-depth interview in the history of marketing research if you can. Yes, it’s just a demonstration, but I still wonder how “deep” Alexa can go. How far can she ladder up to real human needs, feelings and values?

Wouldn’t you want to get beyond “a glass of wine makes me feel calm” and “wine feels like a good friend, a good friend I can sit down and relax with and feel calm after a busy day” to determine why the woman in the video is anxious in the first place, why she’s drinking alone, is there any other substance abuse going on and whether or not she has any human friends. Seriously, can Alexa go there?

And it’s creepy. How do you feel when Alexa asks in her synthesized drone, “I really want to make sure I understand the emotional experience. So tell me more.”

No, it’s not SNL. This is serious business. HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey, anyone?

It does make sense that Generations Y and Z, having grown up glued to their devices, may be more comfortable talking to Alexa than a human being. In the same vein, how wonderful that technology has advanced us to the point where marketers never have to leave their homes or offices to see real, living consumers face-to-face. Why deal with messy, human emotions when you can have data?

I, for one, am now dedicating myself to breaking through to the next stage of qualitative research. Why stop with eliminating the interviewers? With the help of AI, let’s eliminate the respondents as well.

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