What whistling frogs can teach us about the future of insight
The Art of Frogging
The mating season in the Australian rainforest is a noisy and confusing place to be. Especially if you are a frog and even more so if you are a professional frogger looking for the Microhylidae, or ‘Whistling Frog’. They are the size of an Australian ten cent coin and live, camouflaged, on the forest floor with a mating call that is ventriloquially deceptive.
Searching for these little fellas can sometimes feel like looking for that golden piece of insight that will unlock the answer to the client brief but, as top frogger, Damon Ramsey demonstrates here, attacking the challenge with only a single-minded approach is doomed to fail.
In insight, the notion of a ‘single source of truth’ is dubious at best, a lie at worst. There is no such absolutism in life, nor is there in research. But in triangulation, you can get to the fuller – more nuanced – picture and it is this more rounded human understanding that is essential to give confidence to clients in the decisions they take than can, in turn, drive their competitive edge.
If I were a client, any brief that generated an agency response with a singular methodological response would instantly go in the bin. If my questions were that easily answered, then I probably don’t need research at all: I can probably answer the question myself from within the vast knowledge already possessed in the business.
What I would be much more keen on, are responses that triangulate insight from at least two sources because, as Damon The Frogger shows, the point at which those two sources intersect ensures you find that diamond in the rough, and prevent distraction from ventriloquial calls that point you in the wrong direction, if working alone.
At Firefish, we start with the basic premise that the answer to the brief lies in the magic that happens at the intersection of Humans, Culture and Data.
Human Understanding is what we’ve built our agency on over the past 23 years. It’s the understanding of the individual, their lives and motivations, and what makes them, them and how that drives their relationships with brands, communications, products and services.
But understanding them alone is only part of the picture. Understanding how culture shapes them as individuals and how they as individuals shape culture reveals more. Nothing is created or launched for one person but exists in a societal context and we need to understand how that feeds into the individual and how groups of individuals and influencers shape society back.
And in a world where no client asked, “Can I have more data, please?” we need to take the data we have, from wherever we can get it, and use it to size, scale or validate what we learn from individuals and culture. And, it should go without saying that, behind any data, there are real humans offering the answers to the whys that lie behind the whats.
So, if any piece of research is driven by only one of these things, you probably won’t find the insight magic that is lying on the metaphorical forest floor.
If the response to the brief is Human Understanding only, the question back should be “but what about the role of culture and/or can we validate this with any data?”.
If the response to the brief is Cultural Understanding only, the question back should be “but what about the individual and is there any other data that can build confidence in the decision I am about to make?”.
If the response to the brief is Data Understanding only, the question back should be “but what about individual humans that sit behind this data and the society and culture that the numbers exist in”.
The Frog Chorus
Whilst it is true that blended methods and triangulated approaches have been gaining much more traction in recent years, getting us closer to finding pure insight gold, they still haven’t been close to achieving the holy grail of this ‘single source of truth’ that people are in favour of demanding today.
In part, that’s because seeing literally everything clearly has been an impossible task. But what has so fundamentally changed in this past decade is the ability to triangulate at scale and speed. Where once we had Damon and his pal with the hot, wet teabag, we now have almost unlimited data and the advancing technology to look at it all. And with the advances in ML/NLP and AI, we now have the ability to see connections we could never have known existed, buried deep in the jungle of disparate data.
So for each of our triangulation strands, we can add further triangulations thanks to ever changing world of data and technology:
For Human Understanding as we’ve always done there’s now the ability to do ‘mass qual’ or analyse masses of unstructured conversations to provide deeper human stories and learning or co-create solutions to client briefs directly with consumers, just as Absolut have done with their “Born to Mix” campaign via their global consumer council of like-minded citizens around the world.
For Cultural Understanding, we can add social listening to see how the cultural conversations start, evolve and spread and – inside searchable repositories of trends and innovations – we can see the things that are shaping our world and put everything we have learned into a wider context for our clients.
For Data Understanding, we can connect disparate datasets into one place for interrogation, create predictive models with scenario planning capabilities and fuse our world to the real world via DMPs that make audiences easier to identify, find and action against.
In the end then, we cannot just search for that single mating frog, but look for every frog in the forest if we triangulate the right things, in the right way, for the right question to answer.
And, of course, even the machines cannot tell us everything. But powerful machines in smart human hands…now we’re getting somewhere…because the difference with this wave of technology is that the new robots can help us to be human in our relationships, our understanding of client issues and our ability to get to the answer that will give our clients the competitive edge they are looking for.
Ultimately, the robots will only serve to make us hyper human.
Besides, there aren’t any plug sockets in the rainforest.
By Richard Owen, Head of Innovation.