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Following the Cookie Crumbs: Two Consumer-Tracking Approaches

Big data is becoming a hot (and some may also say huge) trend in the business world, and we too have been using the PlanetSoho blog as a platform to introduce and explore it as it evolves.

One major aspect of the big-data phenomenon is consumer intelligence. As firms shift their attention from products to consumers in an attempt to become customer-centric, they invest substantial budgetary and human resources in hopes of obtaining consumer intelligence and insight. One of the main “bumps” firms meet on the road to customer-centricity is understanding consumers’ attitudes and behaviors towards their brand.

For small business that bump is even harder to get around. The resources that go into researching consumer attitudes are often very expensive and labor-intensive, to the point that they are out of reach to small firms. However, web- and mobile-based technologies have had a positive impact on making market-research tools available for SMBs as well. In this post, I will introduce two approaches. One is well known and widely used, and the other is new and promising.

Let’s start we the more “traditional” approach: Cookie tracking. This popular and well-established tracking method has been widely used as the main online-consumer-tracking method. Every time users visit (almost any) website and gives tracking permission (thanks to numerous piece of legislation, websites can no longer install cookies without the user’s permission), a small text file is installed on their computer. By analyzing the log file collected while users were visiting the website, the site owner can learn which pages users visited, in what sequence, and for how long.

The new approach is RET: Real-time experience tracking, developed by market research agency MESH Planning. At the heart of this tracking method is mobile technology. Participants first answer a survey about their current attitudes and behavior toward the brand. Then they track via text every time they encounter the brand everywhere they go. They share the type of touchpoint (TV, newspaper, online, etc.), how they felt about the experience, and how persuasive it was. After the research is over, consumers take the same survey they answered in the beginning to see if their attitudes and behavior toward the brand have changed.

Without data collection, there would be no big data. Consumer-experience tracking is one method used to collect consumer data. With crowdsourcing and advanced technologies becoming affordable, consumer research is turning into something even small firms can use to understand their position in the marketplace a little better.

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