Market Research

Robot image

I Robot

“In the twenty first century, the robot will take the place which slave labour occupied in ancient civilisations.”

Nicola Tesla

The Robots are coming

The past few decades have seen many significant advances in robotics.  As a result, we now live in a world in which an increasing variety of tasks utilise robots.  Oxford Economics estimated that robots could displace about 20 million manufacturing jobs by 2030 (that’s 8.5% of the current global workforce).

Indeed, the number of robots in the world has doubled over the past decade.  And, whilst they are not expected to revolt against the humans any time soon, they are nevertheless changing the world in which we live.

But what are Robots?

What counts as a robot?  Before we get carried away talking about machine uprisings, let’s start by considering what a robot actually is.

As it turns out, it can be quite difficult to come up with a definition that everyone agrees on.  Most people would agree that a robot is a machine.  But a robot must be more than just a machine to make it a robot. Kate Darling, a roboticist at the MIT Media Lab, defines a robot as:

a physical machine that’s usually programmable by a computer that can execute tasks autonomously or automatically by itself’

On this definition a radio-controlled drone is not a robot.  This is because it can only act based on instructions it receives from its controller.  However, it can become a robot if it becomes capable of performing actions independently of its human controller based on some pre-programmed automated logic.  For instance, if it is programmed to detect and avoid obstacles during flight without needing to be instructed to do so.

This fine dividing line between machines that are remotely controlled and machines that have the capability for autonomous action can make it difficult to spot robots.  Just how autonomous does a machine’s actions need to be to count as a robot? 

Simple machines that are not robots can perform tasks such as switching on and off, without human input, but we don’t necessary consider these to be robots.  It needs to be automated; it needs to respond to input from its environment and it needs to act independently of direct human control.  However, it also needs to be reasonably sophisticated in its ability to respond – otherwise a thermostatically controlled switch might potentially be called a robot!

How many Robots are there today?

Most robots are, at present, used in manufacturing and, in particular, for automated assembly processes.  The (International Federation of Robotics) IFR estimated that there were around 2.7 million industrial robots in use around the world in 2019. 

Robots are big business.  2019 saw 373,000 new industrial robots installed at a cost of US$13.8b.  

However, 73% of these robots exist in just five countries – the USA, Japan, Germany, China and South Korea. 

So what are Robots being used for?

Most robots are used in manufacturing and logistics operations.  Typically, that would be for assembly operations or for moving goods/parts around the factory floor or in a warehouse.

28% of all the robots installed in 2019 were in an automotive business.  The image many of us have of robots assembling cars is still a fair representation of the reality of robotics in the workplace today.  And a further 24% are in use in the electrical/electronic manufacturing industries.  That’s just these two industry sectors purchasing over half of the world’s robots.

However, robots are now also being used in a wider variety of other manufacturing sectors such as metal machinery, plastics and food. We can expect to see them used more extensively across manufacturing over the coming decade as technology develops viable applications outside of the automotive space.

Also, whilst most robots are still being installed in factories, we are now starting to see new types of robots emerging in other industry sectors as well.

When drones become Robots

Most drones are not robots.  That is because their radio operators directly control them. And in that respect, they are no different from radio controlled model aircraft.

However, some of the more advanced drones incorporate a degree of AI in the form of Computer Vision which enables them to detect and respond to obstacles whilst flying without the need for operator intervention.  This kind of technology also allows them to record observations about their environment in a more automated way.

The more autonomous a drone becomes, the more robot-like it becomes.  In future robot drones will become a reality.

Robots in logistics

Robotic (driverless) forklift trucks have been around for a while but up until now not in huge numbers.  In 2019, firms bought around 5,000 of these robot trucks – that sounds a lot but it’s still only 0.3% of the global forklift truck market and only about 1% of the size of the global market for industrial robots.

Nevertheless, logistics is becoming more automated, and the competitive demands generated by businesses like Amazon will no doubt act as an accelerator of change.

How fast robots will catch on in logistics remains an open question, but many industry commentators expect to see significant growth in their use over the coming decade.

Robots in healthcare

Robots are now also starting to make an appearance in our hospitals and health clinics.

Here, there are number of different applications.  Covid has seen a particular growth in interest in UV disinfection robots.  These may have had most prominence in the news over the past year, but they are by no means the only application.

Toyota have developed a robot (WelWalk WW-200) to help with the rehabilitation of patients suffering from lower limb paralysis.  And some companies have even developed robot surgeons to assist in simpler or more routine surgical procedures.

It is clearly very early days with a lot of this technology, but many people feel healthcare robotics is an area to watch for some potentially significant growth opportunities in the future.

Driverless vehicles

Driverless vehicles are, of course, a form of robot.  Trials are currently underway with driverless cars and we could well see these vehicles start to make an appearance on our roads before 2021 is out.

These robot drivers can negotiate their way from A to B – responding to traffic conditions and making autonomous decisions about when to speed up and slow down, when to avoid obstacles, and when to stop for traffic lights etc.

Just about any form of vehicle could be driverless.  Indeed, we may even see the day where passenger aircraft essentially become robot-controlled drones.

Robots in agriculture

One sector that is likely to see an increased use of robots is agriculture.  Here we are likely to see more driverless tractors and combines in use in the future. 

There are also robots today that can pick fruit, capable of gauging the ripeness of fruit and deciding for themselves which fruit to pick and which not.

Robot house servants

Simple robots are in use today for such basic tasks as vacuuming and CES 2021 showcased several concept domestic robots designed to help with a variety of common household tasks such as washing the dishes and tidying up.

The day when we are all served by Robot Jeeves is still a long way away, however, although the next decade is likely to see some increasingly sophisticated automation technology move us a lot closer to it.

I Robot

To get to a stage where we come face to face with a fully functioning, intelligent, humanoid, robot is (let’s face it) a long way off.

The key developments that are yet to come, which would make that possible, relate more to AI than to creating an electro-mechanical machine capable of replicating human motion.

How close are we to creating such an robot?

Various experts have different views on this.  Some have suggested some time between 2030 and 2060 is theoretically realistic – so potentially within our lifetimes!

That said, we have an issue in creating that kind of AI.  And that is the age-old AI problem – to design Artificial Intelligence, you really need to be able to define what “human intelligence” actually is.  Philosophers have debated this question for centuries without really arriving at a clear answer!

One thing is for sure though, robotic technology is going to offer some significant growth opportunities across a range of different sectors and applications over the coming decade.  It is just a question of identifying and exploiting the new opportunities that this technology will bring.

About Synchronix

Synchronix is a full-service market research agency.  We believe in using market research to help our clients understand how best to prepare for the future.  That means understanding change – whether that be changes in technology, culture, attitudes or behaviour. 

We have considerable experience in the design and execution of market research surveys in the field of both b2c and b2b science, engineering and tech markets.  We can offer a range of services to help you identify new market opportunities and to understand the position and strength of your brand in the market.  You can read more about this on our website.  

If you wish to follow our weekly blog you can view all out past articles on our website here.

Sources

ARIC Journal

BBC

Builtin

CNET

Heartbeat

IFR

Interesting Engineering

Intuitive

Investopedia

John Deere

MMH

Ohio University

Oxford Economics

Toyota

Wired

The Bionic Man – will science fiction become reality?

We think of the bionic man as an idea from science fiction.  Perhaps some of us remember the TV series from the 1970s (The Six Million Dollar Man) and its spin-off – The Bionic Woman

A great fictional concept but very much the stuff of science fiction – something for the far future.  But perhaps that future is a lot closer than we might think.

A few years ago, I met a fellow at the MedTec trade show in Stuttgart. He worked in the field of bionics.  During a relaxed conversation at the bar, he told me, with no small degree of confidence, that the day will come when science allows us to replace amputated limbs with bionic replacements. 

These replacement limbs will not be simple prosthetics, they will be bionic limbs, fully integrated with the human nervous system, capable of working just as well (and possibly better) than the original amputated limb.

What is more, he believed we would see such technology in our lifetime.  It sounded incredible but he was deadly serious.  It is not a question of if – only of when.

Limb loss affects millions

Every year in the USA, 185,000 people have limbs amputated.  Across Europe that number is even higher at 431,000.

The impact of limb loss (whether it be an arm or a leg) on a person’s life is major.  Modern prosthetics can allow an amputee to regain a degree of independence but, at present, can never serve as an adequate replacement for the original limb.

However, it is theoretically possible to develop the technology that will replace a lost limb with a fully functioning bionic replacement.  And the day will eventually come when bionic limbs will work just as well as the amputated limb they are replacing.

Human limbs move the way they do because nerve impulses from the brain tell them what to do.  When to grip a mug, when to point, when to scratch your nose.  These impulses are electrical signals.  Robotics also works on the same basic principle – electrical signals, sending instructions that cause a robot to move.  So, in principle, it is just a case of marrying the two together to create a true bionic limb, operated directly by signals from the human brain.

But how close are we to possessing such technology?

The LUKE Arm

On July 4th 2017, two US veterans with arm amputations became the first people to be fitted with an early form of bionic arm.  The device might be described as an enhanced prosthesis.  DARPA (Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency) developed it as part of an ongoing program to revolutionize prosthetics.

The LUKE arm can perform fairly dexterous arm and hand movements, enabling an amputee to pick up even small objects such as a grape, to open doors and to drink from a mug. 

A battery powers the arm, but is not truely bionic, in so far as the human nervous system does not directly control it.  Control switches of various kinds (for example located on the feet) get the arm to perform a wide variety of tasks.

It is currently one of most advanced robotic prosthetic arms that is commercially available (currently sold by Mobius Bionics).

If you’d like to see the arm in action, I have included a video link at the end of this article.

Developments in the Brain Machine Interface

A true bionic arm would have the articulation of the LUKE arm but would be directly controlled by the human brain.  A neural link would need to be created by surgery to connect wiring in the arm with the amputee’s nervous system.  This would then enable the arm to operate just like a biological arm.

Ongoing research by DARPA in association with John Hopkin’s University’s Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) and School of Medicine (SOM) has demonstrated that it is possible to control fully articulated artificial arms with electrical signals from the human brain.  This is not quite the same as a direct, permanent, surgical link but it does demonstrate what will be achievable. 

You can see it in action for yourself in a video link at the end of this piece.

The technology now exists that creates a functional brain machine interface.  The next step will be to surgically integrate a bionic arm with a human patient to create a permanent, fully functioning, replacement bionic limb.

The first true bionic arms

Scientists at Gothenburg’s Chalmers University successfully developed and fitted a true bionic arm to two men in Sweden in 2020.  The arm may not have the full, extensive, fine manipulation articulation of a normal human arm, but nevertheless electric signals from the human brain directly control it.

The arm prosthesis was implanted through a process called osseointegration – that is surgically attached to the bone, muscles, and nerves.  In trials the patients were able to use the arm quite comfortably throughout their normal daily activities. 

This incredible development essentially provides an amputee with a bionic arm that operates as easily and almost as well as the original limb.

Again, if you’d like to see Rickard and Magnus using their bionic arms, there is a video link at the end of this piece.

The Future

The next stages of development for this technology over the coming twenty years will be very exciting.

The three main challenges science needs to address now will be:

  • Creating a neutrally integrated limb with considerably more nuanced manipulation capabilities.  Here, the bottleneck is the neutral interface (the sensor technology already exists to facilitate it).
  • The development of advanced Haptics to provide increasingly realistic sensory feedback from the bionic limb to the human brain.  Here again the challenge is the neural interface.
  • Making the technology available in an affordable form to all amputees.

So, when are we likely to see a world in which all amputees can benefit from fully functional replacement bionic limbs?

Given the current state of the technology we are likely to see some very sophisticated bionic limbs developed and successfully trialled over the coming decade.  We may even start to see significant numbers of amputees able to start benefiting from the technology by 2030.

Ultimately the key will come down to delivering solutions that strike the right balance between their effectiveness and cost.  But I feel optimistic that within 10-20 years the lives of a great many amputees across the world will be dramatically enhanced for the better by this technology.

About Synchronix

Synchronix is a full-service market research agency.  We believe in using market research to help our clients understand how best to prepare for the future.  That means understanding change – whether that be changes in technology, culture, attitudes or behaviour. 

We offer market research services and opinion polling to clients actively campaigning on behalf of the environment and engaged in the green economy.  You can read more about this on our website.

Video Links

The LUKE arm in action

See APL’s brain machine interface controlled robotic arms in action

Rickard Normack & Magnus Niska using their bionic arms (you will need to turn on sub-titles for this one, unless your Swedish is good!)

Deforestation – how concerned should we be?

We all know that our world has been suffering from the effects of deforestation.  If this continues unabated, we will see not only a significant loss of biodiversity but also a potentially significant negative impact on global warming.  Whilst we often read about this in the press, I thought it would be useful to pull together some numbers that help to illustrate the scale of the problem.

Tropical forests are important

Tropical rainforests only cover about 2% of the earth’s land mass, so on that basis you might imagine they can’t be that important.  However, this relatively small environment contains 50% of all the life on the planet’s land surface.  This includes an incredible variety of different animal and plant species.

Tropical forests also absorb a huge amount of carbon from the atmosphere and therefore play an important role in slowing global warming.  Tropical forests currently hold more carbon than humanity has emitted over the past 30 years by burning coal, oil, and natural gas. 

Indeed, overall, the world’s forests absorb one-third of the annual CO2 released from burning fossil fuels. 

But deforestation is accelerating

We have been aware that deforestation is threatening these habitats for a long time but, unfortunately, the problem is getting worse rather than better.

Between 2000 and 2015, deforestation saw an average of 3 million hectares of tree cover disappear every year.  But since 2016 that average has increase to around 4 million hectares a year.

Deforestation accelerated by a further 12% in the year 2019/2020, so there is no sign of any respite.

We are now in a situation where 30% of all the world’s forests have been cleared and a further 20% seriously degraded.

The Amazon Rainforest in Brazil is under the greatest threat

Deforestation as a problem is largely concentrated within a small number of countries that have large areas of tropical rainforest.

In 2020 around 40% of all global deforestation occurred in Brazil.  In fact, Brazil has been consistently destroying around 1.5 million hectares of rainforest every year since 2016. 

The next most serious problem can be found in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has accounted for around 10-15% of deforestation in recent times.

Bolivia and Indonesia are the next most significant contributors, although, in the case of Indonesia the rate of deforestation has recently declined.

What causes deforestation?

We lose trees every year to a variety of causes, both natural and unnatural.

A major World Resources Institute study found that between 2001 and 2015 tree loss could be attributed to the following sources:

  • 26% was lost as part of managed forestry.  This is where trees in managed plantations are cut down for commercial timber.  Most of these trees will be replaced over time, as the plantation owners would always replant after harvesting a timber crop.
  • 23% are lost to wildfires.  These may become more widespread with global warming but they are a natural phenomenon.  Trees lost in this manner will also regenerate over time.
  • 24% are lost to shifting patterns of agriculture.  This is where forests are cleared and burnt, usually to free land for use in subsistence farming.  In some cases the forests may grow back, in others the loss is permanent.
  • Over 27% of forestry loss is the result of either urbanisation or commodity-driven deforestation.  This kind of loss is the most serious and is almost always permanent.

Whilst growing urbanisation creates a demand for land that can threaten forests, the growth of human urban centres actually accounts for very little deforestation (just 0.6%). 

So forests are not being cut down because people need space to live.

A far more serious problem is commodity driven deforestation, where forests are being cleared simply to allow us to grow commodity crops such as soy, palm oil or rear cattle.  This accounts for 27% of forest loss and is a major cause of deforestation in countries like Brazil.

In Brazil the dominant form of deforestation can be attributed to commodity driven deforestation to clear land for cattle ranching (accounting for 63% of all Amazon deforestation between 2001 and 2013).  Other significant culprits include commodity crops such as soy but cattle ranching for industrial meat production is by far and away the greatest threat.

What can be done?

The big question we face is what can be done about all this?  How can we save our forests?

In the case of the Brazilian situation we can all make a limited impact by reducing our intake of processed meat.  But ultimately real change can only be made if the Brazilian government can be persuaded to act.  Unfortunately, at this time, with other priorities such as covid taking up so much political time, we are unlikely to see much positive action.

Now the Brazilian government have argued that the management of their own resources is their own affair.  However, 10% of all the world’s wildlife species live in the Amazon and the Amazon rainforest accounts for 54% of all the world’s rainforests.  It can therefore justifiably be viewed as an important global resource and we should all encourage our own governments to work more closely with countries like Brazil and Bolivia to stem the tide of deforestation in this region. 

We might do this individually or by supporting organisations such as the World Wildlife Fund or Rainforest Alliance which are actively campaigning to help preserve these crucial environmental resources.  But, whatever we do, we should all remember that we don’t have the luxury of time to solve these problems and, every year, a further 4 million hectares of forest are likely to disappear.

About Synchronix

Synchronix is a full-service market research agency.  We believe in using market research to help our clients understand how best to prepare for the future.  That means understanding change – whether that be changes in technology, culture, attitudes or behaviour. 

We offer market research services and opinion polling to clients actively campaigning on behalf of the environment and engaged in the green economy.  You can read more about this on our website.

Sources:

Global Forest Watch

IUCN

WRI

Mongabay

Sciencemag

WWF

Rainforest Alliance

Marketing Personas – powerful tool or pointless exercise?

What are marketing personas?

You have probably heard of marketing personas (or buyer personas as they are otherwise known).  The purpose of creating marketing personas is to paint a picture of the audience you are trying to reach.  Used well it can be great tool for segmentation marketing.  But used poorly it can, unfortunately, end up being a pointless exercise. 

Where do marketing personas come from?

Whilst many of us may have seen the end result, it is often not entirely clear how these personas were created, or even by whom.

Perhaps a group of sales and marketing people huddle together in a workshop and “brainstorm” a bunch of personas. 

Or perhaps they were created based on some focus groups that some of your marketing team had commissioned. 

Or maybe they were developed from insights generated from a larger scale quantitative market research survey.  Or perhaps all of these. 

How they were created does matter.  They should of course, be based on a broad group of real actual customers – and not just plucked out of the air based on a customer meeting that one person had with a single customer!

How do they help?

They allow us to bring to life different segments of our market and, in doing so, allow us to better target them and serve their needs. Or do they?

“Segments must be Measurable, Substantial, Accessible, Differentiable, and Actionable.”

Philip Kotler

Unfortunately, sometimes, people can go through a lengthy exercise in creating fancy personas only to find that they aren’t of much actual use.  They can look good.  They look as though they make sense.  You can even bring them to life with infographics, videos and swish artwork.  That’s all cool … but what use are they?

When such an exercise goes wrong you can end up with something that looks very impressive but is hard to relate to any of the questions or challenges that your business actually faces. 

But it doesn’t have to be like that.  Done right, marketing personas can be an extremely powerful business tool. 

So how do you get it right?

Make sure you start with some clear business objectives

First things first.  You must always start with a good reason why you want to create marketing personas in the first place.

That of course means you need to start some tangible business questions.

Obvious questions usually include the following:

  • Who is most likely to buy our products?
  • What makes them buy?
  • How do we reach them?
  • What do we need to do to persuade them to buy?

Once you have these questions you then know what you are trying to achieve. Your success criteria for the entire exercise are then clear and simple – can the personas we have created answer our original questions.  Keep these questions clearly in mind throughout the exercise – they are your guiding light and anchor point for the entire project

Do you need them?

An important question to ask before you get too far with generating your personas is:  “Do I even need to generate multiple market personas” ?

Generating multiple market personas implies you are adopting a market segmentation strategy.  That means you want to divide your customers and prospects into different groups and adopt a different marketing approach for each of these groups.

This more targeted approach can bring great rewards. 

But to develop and execute specific campaigns and strategies to address different market segments requires resources.  Not everyone will have the resources or the time to invest in this.

This comes back to our original questions – why are you doing this?

Sometimes, people develop market personas for the wrong reasons.  Sometimes what you really need is something simpler. 

Maybe all you need is a good profile of your target customers and prospects as a single group.  One group of people who you can focus your marketing resources on, directing a specific approach.

In this case you just need a market profile that simply allows you to describe those people who represent good prospects for targeting to your marketing agency in an accurate and meaningful way.

Make sure Personas integrate into your marketing strategy

Although it sounds very obvious, people can sometimes get this wrong and, when they do, generating marketing personas can be a waste of time.

If you decide you need marketing personas then this should form an integral part of your marketing strategy.  The insight you gain from the personas will help you to design a targeted segmentation strategy that will shape and inform your marketing.

You don’t need to generate marketing personas if you have already determined what your strategy will be.  The whole point of creating them is to help formulate your strategy.

Personas are powerful tool for briefing your marketing agency

When you brief a marketing agency, the first thing they will want will be for you to paint a picture of your target audience.  Who are you trying to reach?  What do you need to say to them?

The more they know about the audience the better.  The more specifically they can then target any media campaigns and the more engaging they can make the messaging.

With well crafted and meaningful marketing personas you should be able to provide them with everything they need to create a very targeted and relevant campaign for you.

How do you know your Marketing Personas are any good?

OK, so you have completed the process of pulling together what you need to create your personas.  You believe they will answer the questions you set out at the start of the process.  Now you need to bring them to life and present them to colleagues, to your marketing agency and your partners.

So now you need to create a concise and meaningful guide that explains what these personas are and why they matter.

By this time you may have been working on the project for a few weeks.  So there is a real risk that you, your market research agency and anyone else closely involved might not be able to see the wood for the trees.  So it is worth taking a step back and looking at what you have, to make sure it does indeed give you everything you need.

You can check this by asking a few basic questions:

  • Is the Marketing Persona clearly defined and easy to understand?  How easy is it to explain to a colleague who has had no involvement in the project?
  • Does it tell you how big/small the market segment it represents actually is?  Is this particular Marketing Persona representative of 50% of your potential market or 5%?
  • Does it clearly outline the opportunity that this market segment represents?  Will these people buy from you?  Will it be an easy or a hard sell?  If your salesman is speaking with one of them, what are the chances that you will make a sale?
  • Does it tell you what this Persona likes and dislikes?  What kind of things are likely to interest and engage with them?  And what might leave them cold?
  • How is this particular Persona different from the other ones?  Can you easily explain why this Persona is different?  What do you need to do differently to engage with this group that you do not need to do with any of the other Personas?
  • What media channels should you use to communicate with this Persona and how is this different from the others?
  • What kind of marketing messages do you need to design in order to ensure that people in this segment will listen and engage with you?

If you are able to reach a point where your marketing personas can be used to provide meaningful and actionable answers to each of these questions, then you know you have created something of real value.

About Synchronix

Synchronix is a full-service market research agency.  We believe in using market research to help our clients understand how best to prepare for the future.  That means understanding change – whether that be changes in technology, culture, attitudes or behaviour. 

If you are looking to create market personas, we can provide a market segmentation services that you enable you to generate these in a structured and successful way.  You can read more about how we do this on our website.

Virtual Future – how will virtual reality shape our future world?

Part 2:  VR beyond gaming

More than just a game

In our last blog we began our discussion of VR by looking at what the future may hold in store for this technology in the world of computer games.  However, whilst gaming still represents the most widely used application for VR and AR at present, this technology has many other applications.

In this article, we would like to take a closer look the potential for these.

Remote working

One of the huge changes covid has forced on our professional lives is the need for virtual working.  The business world has discovered that it is perfectly possible for most office staff to work effectively from home for long periods of time.  Indeed, tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams have helped to make home working become the new normal.

But a remote working world, for all its video calls, can be an isolating experience.  Yes, we will be returning to the office sometime this year.  But let’s not kid ourselves it will be the same.  Many people will now be working from home as the norm and hot desking in the office when they need to.  The days of the daily commute, five days a week, every week, are gone.

This remote working scenario is ripe for transformation into a virtual world.  Using VR and AR technology can help to humanise the experience, it can make it more real, more interactive and allow work colleagues to participate in a wider range of interactive tasks.

This technology is already here.  One such solution is Spatial; an AR version of Zoom, enabling work colleagues to interact in an AR office space.  You can interact in a more 3D environment rather than just with 2-dimensional video but the technology also offers other tools such as enabling you to share ideas by scribbling on a virtual white board, share content and images in 3D and so on.  No doubt, as time goes by, technology such as this will continue to add features and tools that make the experience even more interactive.

Socialising

In lockdown we have all, to some extent or other, been forced to get used to the idea of remote socialising.  Often armed with a glass of wine and a Zoom call.  Arguably many Gen Zs have been socialising remotely far more than they do in person for most of their lives.  The only thing that’s changed over the past year is that the rest of us have joined them.

Now, I’m not suggesting people are going to abandon the pubs and restaurants any time soon.  In fact, once these places can re-open, I’m sure they can expect a bit of a boom.  Imagine the novelty value of going to the pub with your friends again? 

But that said, I suspect that socialising remotely will remain a much more important part of our lives post-covid than it was before.  For one thing it is a great way to meet up with friends and family who live far away.  No need to travel, just hop on a Zoom call.

Again, as with working, remote socialising tends to lead naturally to virtual socialising.  The ability to interact in 3D in a virtual environment is unlikely to catch on if it is expensive but – as soon as the price is right – this will eventually become a normal way of communicating.  As with virtual reality workspaces, it is more a question of when than if.

Indeed, tools already exist for virtual socialising such as Altspace VR, VR Chat and Rec Room.

Interior Design and Architecture

An obvious application for VR and AR is interior design.  Using this technology a designer can show their clients how they might transform an interior space.  Such a visualisation can make a design look far more real and can be used to show clients what a range of different alternatives might look like. 

Such technology should ultimately make it easy for people to visualise a range of different options and to alter and adjust designs to see how different scenarios might play out.  And what goes for interior design applies equally well to architecture.  Now it is possible to visit an empty plot of land or a building site and use AR to see exactly what a new building might look like.  You can even walk around it to see just what it looks like in its environment from every angle.

Many clients find it hard to visualise what an end design might look like.  VR can show them in a way that is clear, avoids misunderstanding and negates the need for lengthy explanations.

Having a clear virtual view of what the end product will look like before you even need to build, buy or change anything, clearly has the potential to avoid costly mistakes.   Most importantly, it makes it much less likely that designers and builders will hear the dreaded words “Now I see it, I’m not sure I like it like that.”

Engineering and Industrial Design

Technical design work can often involve large teams and often those teams may be working together but are based in different parts of the world.

Here VR/AR has the same potential as in other fields to link remote working colleagues together and enable them to visualise concepts and designs in 3-dimensions.

People can all see how things might fit together and how the finished article might look.  This can be particularly important if the physical styling and appearance of the end product is key.  It is much better to spot potential problems in a virtual world and correct them, rather than having to wait until an expensive prototype has been created.

Like architecture, the key benefits will come from remote teamworking and the ability to visualise the end product fully before you need to start spending serious money on making it real.

As with other fields, the barriers will be all around cost and, given the data hungry nature of engineering design work, the ability of the technology to cope well with that.  The ROI will become simpler and easier to justify, as the technology improves and costs come down.

Some companies have already been using this technology for a while now.  Businesses like Jaguar Land Rover and Arup have been deploying VR in design for over a decade.  In time smaller businesses will inevitably follow.

Healthcare

Another field where we might expect to see VR make increasing inroads is healthcare.  Here the technology can be used for training in various surgical procedures.  It can also be used to help surgeons plan for particularly complex operations.

Students can now study human anatomy extensively with VR, potentially continuing their studies from home if need be.

VR can assist with robotic surgery enhancing the degree of control a remote surgeon has over their instruments during a procedure and providing them with a much clearer visualisation of what is happening than would be possible just by looking at a video screen.

Other Applications

VR’s inherent ability to visualise and simulate makes it ideal for any training application where people need to interact with complex technology or a difficult environment.  It can safely create realistic simulations that help prepare people for working in demanding and potentially dangerous work environments.  It also enables students and tutors who may be scattered in remote locations to come together and interact as a group.

As the technology improves and the costs come down, it is inevitable that we will see VR become increasingly used as a go-to technology for many training applications.

Clearly the primary application for VR in entertainment is gaming.  However, this is not the only one.  VR can be used to enhance rides in theme parks or perhaps even to create an entire VR experience as a theme in itself.

VR can create spectacular interactive 3-dimensional landscapes and environments.  The potential to use this technology to create something of great artistic beauty can deliver entertainment in the form of a sense of wonder.

Could we perhaps be engaging with VR films or other entertainment experiences in the future?  I am sure we will, in time.

The Future

Given the wide range of different potential applications we could be looking at a world dominated by VR technology at some point in the future.

The fact that covid has rapidly accelerated the extent to which the world works and interacts remotely can only serve as an accelerator for the adoption of new VR applications.  The only question is how fast will this happen?

Unfortunately, VR has suffered considerably from over-hype in the past.  I am sure we can all remember the heady prophecies of 800% growth over four years and such like.  In a way, predictions such as that have done more harm than good for the industry and run the risk of creating a sense of the “boy who cried wolf”.

We may not see a sudden, spectacular, VR revolution but I believe we will see a steady evolution and a sustained growth.  One day we will wake up and all of a sudden it will seem as though VR is everywhere.

For the VR industry it is important to remember that VR itself is only a technology.  For a technology to succeed it must have applications.  So the real challenge, beyond improving the technology, is to identify and develop a meaningful range of products for which there is real demand.  And here it helps to start by taking some advice from Steve Jobs:

You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology, not the other way around.” 

In this context that means looking for potential situations that would benefit from the visual power of VR – i.e. where visualisation can add real value.  Its other key benefit is its ability to operate virtually, bring people in different locations together in a single experience.  Those two things in combination represent the key to developing killer applications.

Identifying and refining how these applications work, overcoming customer objections and reservations and then successfully communicating the benefits of the technology all require a good understanding of the potential market.  This would be where market research can help of course.

About Synchronix

Synchronix is a full-service market research agency.  We believe in using market research to help our clients understand how best to prepare for the future.  That means understanding change – whether that be changes in technology, culture, attitudes or behaviour. 

We provide a wide range of market research and data services.  You can learn more about our services on our website.  Also, please check out our collection of free research guides for more information on specific services offers.

Sources & Links:

Spatial

VR Chat 

Altspace VR

Rec Room

British Interior Design Institute

Ingenia

New Medical

VRSYNC

Covid in Numbers – why have some countries suffered more than others?

As vaccinations roll out, we are beginning to see some light at the end of the covid pandemic tunnel.  It will take a few months yet, but it seems almost unreal to think that by the end of 2021 we may finally be back to some kind of post-pandemic normality.

Now seems like an appropriate time to take stock.  What might we learn from the traumatic events of the past year?  We might ask ourselves the question – why is it that some countries appear to have faired so much worse with Covid than others?  How have some countries experienced relatively low death rates, whereas others have experienced such tragically high numbers?

The Worst Hit

If we take a look at the numbers, the worst hit of the larger countries include many European nations (eight from the top ten worst affected) as well as the USA and Mexico.  All ten have experienced more than 150 deaths per 100,000 population.  The worst affected at the time of writing is the Czech Republic, with over 230 deaths per 100,000.

Other countries have escaped relatively lightly.  Amongst the other European nations Germany has suffered significantly less – ie, experienced a death rate less than half that of countries like the UK, Belgium and Hungary.

Healthcare Quality

One thing we might look at is the quality of healthcare.  More developed countries generally have more established, advanced and comprehensive healthcare. That being the case, such nations should be better placed to deal with a pandemic such as covid.  Unfortunately, it is plain to see that there must be a lot more to it than this; with countries like the USA, UK and Italy all suffering badly despite their relatively advanced healthcare systems.

India has a comparatively small proportion of deaths (under 12 per 100,000 on official figures).  Despite this, India’s healthcare system is ranked only the 112th most efficient healthcare system in the world according to the WHO.  The USA is ranked 37th, the UK 18th and Italy 2nd.  Clearly there must be other factors at play.

One factor is potentially under-reporting.  One source estimated that this could mean that the true level of covid deaths is as much as five times larger than the official numbers in India.  However, even taking that into account, India’s death rates have still been significantly lower than those of the ten hardest hit nations.

Whilst the standard of healthcare has no doubt played some role here, there are clearly other aspects involved.

Population Demographics

One factor is population demographics.  Older patients are much more likely to become seriously ill and die from covid than younger ones.  Here India’s age demographics counts in her favour. 

Only 6% of India’s population is aged over 65.

Compare this to most European countries and the difference is striking – with around 20% of population in the hardest hit European countries being aged over 65.  Italy was the most vulnerable in this sense, with 23% aged over 65 before the pandemic hit.

Of the 10 hardest hit countries, 8 were nations where 19% or more of their populations were aged over 65.  The USA has a slightly younger demographic (16% over 65s) which would help to limit its vulnerability a little but is still clearly more exposed than somewhere like India.

Mexico represents the odd one out here.  Only 7% of Mexicans are aged over 65, giving the country a youthful demographic that is closer to that we see in countries like India.  We must therefore look for other explanations as to why Mexico has suffered so badly.

Urbanisation

Covid spreads best in environments where people live in close proximity to each other and, in general, people living in towns and cities are more likely to live in closer proximity with others.  Indeed, although India in general has seen lower death rates, it has nevertheless suffered more in major urban centres like Mumbai.

Many of the countries that have been worst hit have high levels of urbanisation which has likely contributed to higher death rates.  Belgium has an particularly high level of urbanisation (with 98% of its population living in urban environments), making it especially vulnerable in this sense.  Several other countries on the list have high urbanisation levels (80%+), namely the UK, USA, Mexico and Spain.  A country like India has much lower level of urbanisation overall (36%), which means its population is more widely dispersed and people in more rural environments are therefore less likely to come into frequent contact with others who might be affected.

Lockdowns

The lockdown measures taken by different countries at different times would also have an impact.  However, as these measures are often taken in response to the pandemic getting out of control in the first place, it is no surprise to find that many of the countries with the worst rates have had to impose longer and stricter lockdowns.

According to the Oxford Covid Government Response tracker those countries on our list that have taken the strictest measures for the longest periods of time over the course of the pandemic would include the UK and Italy.  This has not prevented either country from registering high rates however, although it has no doubt helped to prevent the problem getting even worse.

Based on these measures, those countries which have been laxer from this list would include Bulgaria (most notably), the Czech Republic, Hungary and Belgium.  So, it is possible that in these cases a more relaxed approach has contributed to a higher death rate.

Test and Trace

Another factor would be the efficiency of a country’s testing and tracing regime.  On this measure Mexico does especially badly, having only managed to test 41 out of 100,000 people in its population to-date – far fewer than any other country listed.

Nevertheless, the UK has now tested 1,585 people out of 100,000 – more than any other country on the table.  Despite this, the UK still has the third worst death rate overall.  But here the devil lies in the detail.  The UK has massively improved its testing regime over the course of the pandemic but, initially, the UK lagged behind somewhat.  During the first 60 days after the first five UK deaths the British managed to test just 23 people in 100,000.  This compares poorly to a number of other affected countries. 

Germany’s lower death rate overall is partly down to its test and trace efficiencies, especially during the early phase of the pandemic.  The Germans managed to test 37 people in every 100,000 during the first 60 days after their fifth death.

Of all the countries on the list, Mexico stands out as the most behind on test and trace at every stage of the pandemic.  No doubt this is a major reason as to why the country now ranks so highly in terms of death rates.

International Travel

Another factor is the level of international travel.  Countries that experience a large volume of people travelling through their airports and transport hubs are more likely to import covid from overseas. 

Of course, travel restrictions now apply across many nations but this was not always the case.  The UK and the USA would, under normal circumstances, see significantly more international traffic than most other countries.  And so they, along with Hungary, would have been most exposed to importing infection in the absence of strict border controls and quarantine measures.

The Czech situation

It is worth taking time to consider the Czech situation, since this country has experienced the most serious problems to-date. 

In terms of many of the risk factors nothing immediately stands out that would explain why it tops the list.  The level of urbanisation is high but not unduly so at 73%.  Likewise, its population demographic is not notably different from many other European countries (20% aged 65 plus).  It also receives limited international traffic compared to many other countries.

However, over the course of the pandemic its lockdown measures have been the second laxest of the ten worst affected countries.  It is also the case that its figures for test and trace do not appear as comprehensive as many others (although it appears to be testing a reasonable amount of people now).

According to Dr. Rastislav Maďar, the dean of the University of Ostrava’s medical school, the Czech situation can be attributed to three key mistakes.  The first of these was a failure to make mask wearing mandatory, the second a decision to open shops in the run up to Christmas and the third a failure to react quickly enough to the presence of new strains in the new year.

Key lessons learnt

Hopefully, it is clear to see that no single factor or measure can in and of itself entirely explain why any particular countries experiences a high death rate.  There are many factors working together in combination. 

However, the nature of the pandemic is such that it is clear that just a few missteps at any stage can very quickly lead to the situation rapidly deteriorating.  Hopefully, we can all learn from that and avoid making any future silly mistakes in the final stages of the pandemic.

About Synchronix

Synchronix is a full-service market research agency.  We believe in using market research to help our clients understand how best to prepare for the future.  That means understanding change – whether that be changes in technology, culture, attitudes or behaviour. 

We provide a wide range of market research and data services.  You can learn more about our services on our website.  Also, please check out our collection of free research guides for more information on specific services offers.

Sources

John Hopkins University https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html

United Nations https://population.un.org/wup/Download/

Our world in data: https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/covid-stringency-index

Worldbank: https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.65UP.TO.ZS?name_desc=false&view=chart

ITV https://www.itv.com/news/2020-12-09/is-indias-covid-19-death-rate-five-times-higher-than-official-figures-suggest

CNN https://edition.cnn.com/2021/02/28/europe/czech-republic-coronavirus-disaster-intl/index.html

Smartphones 2021: Life in a maturing category

The Smartphone market of 2020 has been something of a roller-coaster ride for many manufacturers.  The Covid pandemic has clearly had a big impact with many people tightening their belts due to reduced incomes.  However, on the other hand, the introduction of 5G has created an incentive to upgrade to newer models. On balance the year has come out negative.  Gartner estimates 2020 sales were, in the final analysis, a full 12.5% down on 2019.  Q4 saw a more positive picture, bolstered by the holiday season, and launch of several new phones, like Apple’s iPhone 12.  Nevertheless, Q4 still ended up 5.4% down overall.  With covid likely to have an ongoing impact in the first half of 2021 the jury is out as to whether such things as the 5G rollout and new model launches will be enough to help stimulate a imminent reversal in this trend.

Market Maturity

There was a time when virtually all analysts and market researchers were happy to post a seemingly endless procession of graphs proclaiming a Smartphone market that seemed destined to continue experiencing exponential growth indefinitely.  And ten years ago, they would have been doing so with good cause.  But today, although it is true to say that the recent slump is largely down to the extraordinary nature of the pandemic, it is not the only factor serving to depress sales.  The other key factor is market maturity. 

Looking back at 2019 and 2018, in terms of units sold at least, globally the market has been flat.  Individual manufacturers have been able to buck this overall trend with innovation or by maximising revenues from similar volumes, but we are clearly looking at a more mature market now than was the case ten or even five years ago.

5G Rollout

However, with 5G now being rolled out and new 5G models being launched, this is likely to provide a growth stimulus over the coming year.  5G rollout is still at an early stage, in the UK, Ofcom stated that only 1% of UK Smartphone users were on 5G in September 2020.  However, in countries like the UK, rollout can be expected to proceed apace during 2021 and we are likely to have very widespread coverage during 2022.  Other western countries are likely to see a similar adoption trend. 

Taking into account the ongoing negative impact of Covid, a reasonable view would be that 5G rollout in itself is likely to stem but not necessarily reverse sales declines in the first half of 2021.  However, by the second half of the year we might see 5G starting to have a significant impact.

Camera Wars

In the age of selfies, Instagram and TikTok, the ability of phones to provide great quality visual images is clearly a key factor in their appeal.  The phones on the market today now offer a quality of camera that could not even have been dreamed of a few years ago.  Having the best camera that can take the best pictures and make the clearest videos has become almost like an arms race amongst the higher end phones.

Indeed, 2020 has seen a gradual move away from smaller screened phones.  Larger screens mean larger images and provide a better experience when, for example, watching a film or a video clip.  The trend is going to continue to favour devices that can provide great images.

However, many phones can now provide this, so the question is how much higher quality do people want?  There is of course a technical limit to the human eye itself.  It is pointless having a camera that offers more than 52 megapixels because the human eye is unable to resolve images of higher quality than this.  There is also likely to come a point of diminishing returns, even before we get to 52 megapixels.  Perhaps now it is more important to have cameras that cope well with poor lighting, or which have great zoom or strong video editing functionality etc. 

Maybe future opportunities exist here for identifying niches of phone users who have requirements for specific kinds of camera functionality.  It is likely to become more complicated than simply continuing to stick more powerful cameras into phones.

Foldable phones

Samsung is continuing to pursue the foldable phone route to achieve differentiation.  So far the foldable phone remains a high-end product and, by and large, a product that appeals to the tech-lover rather than the mass market.  However, as this technology continues to evolve it may become an increasingly important sector of the market.

Concerns remain about the robustness of this technology in some people’s minds and, currently, it remains expensive.  That said, we might consider what it has going for it that might see it really take off in the future.  Issues over robustness and cost represent two objections that can probably be overcome.  However, just because the reasons “not to buy” can be made to disappear – what about the reasons to buy?  Why bother with a foldable phone at all?

As a concept the foldable phone offers two potential advantages that will count in its favour.  First, as it is foldable, it allows you to carry a larger screen around with you.  A large screen means bigger images – better for watching videos and for photos in general.  That is a significant potential advantage in the modern world.

The second advantage is that, because these phones have bigger screens, it is easier to use them in a split screen mode.  Split screen or dual screen working is now virtually a ubiquitous practice when working on PCs – so why not mobile phones?  Many people already do it, although the smaller screen size can be limited and not all apps run well in a split screen.  Some of the tech here needs further development but ultimately one of the main USPs the foldables can potentially offer is a better split screen experience.

Adapting to a Maturing Market

Perhaps it is all too easy to view the prospect of a maturing market with dread.  5G may provide a welcome boost over the next two years but does not alter the basic dynamic that most people now have Smartphones and, what’s more, many of them have fairly powerful Smartphones.

But if we look at other mature markets there are a variety of different ways in which brands are able to navigate them effectively – a number of different strategies that can be adopted to maximise the chances of success as the Smartphone market continues to mature.

The Way Ahead

  • Niche marketing:  If you are not already one of the dominant players in a mature market then it is difficult to significantly improve your market position without making a substantial investment.  The alternative to this is niche marketing – to identify and target specific segments and particular segment needs rather than the whole market.  If you are up against large, well established competitors then marketing to particular segment needs are often the only way to make any headway.
  • Product innovation:  Having an innovative product or, at least, a product that includes some design features that mark it out from the competition, is another way to stand out from the crowd.  The difficulty is that innovation in a mature market often costs a lot of money.  That said, looking for creative ways to stand out is a key way in which brands can thrive in mature markets. And it doesn’t always need to be ‘bleeding edge’. Sometimes a clever application of existing technology can offer a real competitive advantage.
  • Branding and design:  Standing out can be as much about branding as it is about product functionality.  In the Smartphone market Apple has been especially successful in using its brand and design aesthetic to promote its phones.  Many Apple customers are Apple customers as much because of the brand and the design as because of the technology itself.  So, branding and design can definitely have an impact.
  • Customer Loyalty: As markets mature, brands naturally become increasingly dependent upon repeat business from existing customers and less and less reliant on finding new customers.  For that reason, promoting brand loyalty and looking for ways to keep your existing customers engaged with your brand become increasingly important.  In mature markets not many people switch brands and finding new customers to the category will be a rarity.  Promoting customer loyalty is therefore a critical tool.

About Synchronix

Synchronix is a full-service market research agency.  We believe in using market research to help our clients understand how best to prepare for the future.  That means understanding change – whether that be changes in technology, culture, attitudes or behaviour. 

If you would like to learn more about the services we can provide in terms of helping the product development, brand building, identifying future trends and new segment opportunities please check out our collection of free research guides for more information.

Links & sources:

https://www.gartner.com/en/newsroom/press-releases/2021-02-22-4q20-smartphone-market-share-release

https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0024/209373/connected-nations-2020.pdf

Starting out: how market research can help bring new concepts and business ideas to market

Market Research has long been recognised as an important tool in facilitating the development of new products.  This will be particularly important if you are trying to attract investors.  But how exactly can it help?  And what kind of research would be of most use for your business?

First things first

The most important point to make here is that there is no one-size-fits-all answer to such questions.  It all depends on your situation.

At the early stages of a new business venture, you may have several unanswered questions about the product you need to create and the market you plan to sell to.  Some things may be quite clear, others a complete mystery.  Perhaps you already have some data on your market or perhaps your past business experience means you already understand certain things very well. 

So, the first thing to do is to create a list of the things you need to know that you do not know already. That should give you a clearer idea of the kind of market research you might need. 

To help in this process, let’s look at some of the key questions many people have when starting out on a new business venture and, in each case, consider how market research can help.

Product Development:  What should the final product look like?

Some people might start with a blank sheet of paper and some very rough ideas.  Others may start with a much more specific vision of their product that just needs some further refining. 

If you are literally starting with a blank sheet of paper and some very rough ideas, then you might want to consider what Steve Jobs once said about product design “You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology, not the other way around.” 

A good place to start is to look at the market as it is today – what do people like / dislike about the products that are already available?  Are there any emerging trends you need to be aware of?  And, if you were to ask a potential customer what they’d like to see in future – what would they say?

Market Research can be of immense value at this early stage, helping you turn rough ideas into a more tangible reality.  At this point any market research you undertake is likely to be highly exploratory.  You might not even have any tangible concepts to test as yet; in which case the very purpose of the research will be to help create some tangible concepts based on what you learn about your market.

However, it might be that you already have a well-defined concept and the challenges you face are more about refining the details.  In this case, you can opt for more direct forms of market research where you test and perhaps compare different concepts that are fairly well developed.

Market research will help you to start any development decision-making process from the viewpoint of the customer experience and refine your ideas from there.  We would use a different approach depending on whether you need develop a detailed design from a blank sheet of paper or choose the best idea from a shortlist of concepts, or just to refine and tweak the final product.  It’s all about horses for courses.

Understanding the market: How big is it?  Who are the competitors?  How do people buy?

Investors and other stakeholders often like to see evidence to support any new idea.  Is the market big enough could be a key question that needs answering – but not always.  If we are talking about a market that is well established and where everyone accepts it is indeed a big market, you are much less likely to need to find the data to convince people. 

But if you are dealing with a new area, or a niche area, the exact size and potential of your market may be an unknown quantity.  Then you may need to think about getting hold of some market research to demonstrate that there is a good business case for what you are planning.

If you are aiming to be a new entrant in an established market then the last thing you want to do is to begin by making some avoidable schoolboy errors.  An established market will have established competitors – each of whom will have their own strengths and weaknesses.  Customers in such a market will be used to buying products in a particular way; they may have strong expectations in terms of the channels they are willing to use, how they buy and what information they expect suppliers to share with them etc.  Understanding the current market dynamics is likely to be a key area to look at, if you find yourself in unfamiliar territory.

Marketing:  Who should I be marketing and selling my product to and how?

You might have a great product but who are you going to sell to?  At some point you will probably need to sit down with a marketing agency and brief them on what you want.  One of the first thing they will want to know is a detailed description of your target audience – what kind of people do you want to reach?

The more you know about your target audience in advance the more targeted (and hence more successful) your marketing can be. 

If you use market research to profile your target market you will get a clear idea of who you need to aim for, why and how. 

Knowing who you need to reach in terms of simple demographics is all well and good.  But often it helps to be a lot more specific than that.  Knowing more about your audience in terms of their interests, their media preferences, product format preferences and other aspects of their lives can all help ensure your marketing is better targeted.

You can also use market research to help understand how you might position your offering with such an audience.  What messages are they likely to respond best to and which are unlikely to resonate?  Understanding their likes, dislikes and interests will all help to determine that.  If you have specific promotional concepts in mind, you can test these directly.  This all helps to refine what you’re doing to ensure it hits the right notes.

Pricing: How much can I (should I) charge customers?

Pricing can sometimes be a key area you need to think about – especially if you are dealing with a price sensitive market.  You might be able to get a good feel for this just by researching what competitors are charging but sometimes it is not necessarily possible (or desirable) to do this.

Market Research can help in such cases by reaching out to potential customers and testing what pricing strategy is likely to deliver the optimum results.  Pricing research can provide your financial people with the information they need to model various pricing options and to understand how different pricing levels might impact on demand.

Market Research can help with any new venture/product concept

By taking time to think about the questions you need answering and why you need them answered, you can obtain a clear view of what kind of market research you might need. 

Hopefully, some of the questions we’ve raised here will help to spark some ideas in that thought process. 

But once you have your list of questions, you can then think about getting some answers.  Some of these you might be able to find answers to yourself but some you might need help with.  At that point you are ready to seek the help of a market research agency.

A market research agency can provide you with advice and guidance as to what form of research might be most appropriate.  Speaking with an agency will help to clarify your thinking and provide you with some tangible options to consider.

If you would like to find out more about the kind of services our agency can offer, or if you have particular questions you’d like help with, please contact us for more information.

The Rise of the Female Gamer

One half of all gamers are women

Gaming is fast becoming as much a female hobby as a male one.

Once upon a time we used to think of gamers, almost exclusively, as young, heterosexual, white, and male.  That is no longer the case.  Gaming is now a popular pastime and today’s “gamers” are a more diverse community than ever before.

These days, around half of all gamers are women – a fact confirmed by more than one 2020 survey reported on UKIE’s ukiepedia site.  Despite this, many women who play games (two-thirds) do not regard “gaming” as one of their hobbies. 

Why don’t women see themselves as gamers?

So why is this?

Perhaps some mostly only play casual games on mobile devices and are less inclined to regard this as “proper” gaming.  Or perhaps some have come to the hobby so recently that they don’t yet see themselves as gamers. Or perhaps the traditional image of the gaming community as a male dominated sphere makes some women reluctant to overtly identify with it.

Anecdotally, women are still a lot less likely to buy from sites such as Steam and, although accurate figures on such sites are hard to come by, there is some evidence to support this.  One 2015 analysis estimated that only between 4% and 18% of visitors to the Steam homepage were actually women.  Now this may well have changed but it does suggest that there are certain gaming environments where you are less likely to find a female gamer. 

Whether or not women as yet represent half of the gaming market in value terms is an open question.  However, they clearly now represent one half of all gamers.  And, no one would argue that, if provided with the right products, women will not spend as much as men.

But if this potential is to be fully realised, we first need to consider what factors, if any, might be holding things back.

What’s putting women off?

One factor that we certainly can’t afford to ignore is that some (possibly many) female gamers have been put off by the toxic misogyny that has been present in certain sections of the gaming community.  This came to an unpleasant head in 2014 with the gamergate controversy.  Attitudes and incidents of this sort will no doubt discourage at least some women from identifying too closely with the gaming community.  It is particularly likely put off others from engaging in some multiplayer games, where they are more likely to encounter such unpleasant behaviour.

Qualitative research has suggested that the online multi-player environment can be particularly problematic for women gamers.  This study suggested that female gamers did, for example, seek to “…mitigate online harassment, including actively hiding their identity and avoiding all forms of verbal communication with other players.”   This may explain, at least partly, why only 33% of women who play games are happy to self-identify as gamers.

When the hobby gets things right

All that said, some studies suggest the hobby is catering more for female gamers than used to be the case.  A 2016 study by Indiana University analysed 571 gaming titles over a 31 year period and claimed that there had been a decline, since 2005, in the level of sexualisation of female characters. 

It is also the case that there will also be certain spaces where you’d be a lot more likely to find female gamers.  Many would argue that female gamers become a lot more significant when it comes to mobile and casual gaming.  For certain games, the female audience can approach 80% but for others it can be as low as 8% and for others closer to 50/50. 

Clearly some games have done a great job of attracting a significant female following, for instance, by offering strong and interesting female character choices.  Games like Horizon Zero Dawn may be an example of this.   As Malindy Hetfield wrote on Polygon: The complex representation of women in different social spheres throughout Horizon Zero Dawn is one of its best features.

Game developers who make the effort to understand and cater for the female audience can potentially unlock a significant future market. All it requires is a good understanding of what that market wants and the ability to develop and market it in an authentic and appealing way.

One potential issue here is the fact that women still represent a minority of people working in the games industry.  UKIE’s 2020 game industry census reported that women make up only 28% of the workforce.  Getting women more involved in the creative process of games development can surely only enrich the end result.

Tapping into the female gamer audience

However, one size is unlikely to fit all and, with so many women now playing games, it would be wrong to think of them as a single homogenous audience.  Some women may prefer casual tile matching games and puzzles but others like enthralling RPGs, or racing games.  The future is likely to see a variety of different female audiences emerge within different gaming genres. 

Tastes are evolving and changing over time and if game developers can find creative ways to tap into the female gaming market, the potential opportunities are clearly significant.  The challenge is to find the right audience and understand how best to reach them with the right products and messages.

We can help in this process by providing audience profiling and segmentation market research services.  If you’d like to find out more about these services, please contact us for more information.

Building brand is key but is the brand funnel still relevant?

Building a strong brand

Every marketeer knows that building a strong and distinctive brand image plays a critical role in business success.  You only need to look at brands like Apple, BMW and Coca Cola to see the power of brand image in action. 

No one doubts that brand building is as important today as it always was.  But what about the brand funnel?

The classic brand funnel

The classic brand funnel has been used to describe how potential customers progress along an emotional journey that has several distinct stages.

First, they become aware of a brand, then familiar, then they desire it enough to consider buying it and then, finally, they buy (if all goes well). 

Not everyone completes this journey.  Some may not even make it before the first one or two steps.  This being the case the role of marketing is to find ways to move as many people as possible through the funnel as quickly as possible.

The old model

Back in the days before digital marketing and the internet, the process of moving potential customers through different stages of the brand funnel was a slow one.  It you are relying on such things as TV advertising, magazine advertising and billboards you have no direct connection between the advert and the sale. 

Sure, a person can see your ad as they walk past a billboard, but they had no way to engage with it or to buy your product.  All they could do was look at the ad and (hopefully) remember it. 

In such a world memory is very important.  The gap between someone seeing an advert and actually visiting a shop where your products are sold could be days, maybe even weeks. 

Times have changed

These days someone can see an ad and instantly go to the online shop to buy your product, all within a matter of a few minutes.  There is a direct connection between advertising and sales that rarely existed in the old pre-digital world. 

Previously there was no direct way to measure how many people had seen a billboard ad or what impact it had had on them.  Now we can see how many people engage with ads and how many of these click through to buy a product.

So, do we even need to worry about the brand funnel anymore? 

Some people have even claimed that the brand funnel has now been ripped apart by the digital environment.  That it is an old, irrelevant model for a non-digital age.  But they would be wrong.

How the funnel works in a digital age

Think about what happens when someone encounters a digital ad for a brand they have never seen before.

The first thing that happens is they see the ad.  That’s the first stage of the brand funnel – awareness.  No one ever bought anything they weren’t aware of.

Next, they absorb the messaging in that ad.  Assuming it hits the mark, they are now more familiar with the offer.  That is the second stage of the funnel. 

Thirdly, let’s say our imaginary customer’s interest is engaged.  If all goes well, they will click through to the online shop – they are now considering a purchase.  Then they make the purchase (we hope).

They have still gone through the exact same process – the only difference is that it has taken minutes, not weeks.

Understanding longer term impacts matter

But digital advertising does not just have a measurable immediate impact. 

Many people see a digital ad and simply don’t engage with it.  Or perhaps they visit your website and buy nothing.  So digital marketing can have a minimal impact in the initial instance.  This might be regarded as a failure, but is it?

As in the pre-digital age, many people might see a digital ad and pretty much walk on by.  However, over time a combination of marketing initiatives may make them more familiar with what you do until, perhaps months later, they buy.

In such instances the classic brand funnel still applies.  That is because digital advertising can have a longer-term intangible influence on brand perceptions as well as delivering immediate sales results.

The role of advocacy

One thing which we know is a lot more important these days is brand advocacy.  This is especially the case when it comes to customers willing to give positive reviews and ratings for your products online.  It can play a critical role in converting interest into sales and many customers will actively seek out such reviews online to help them make their decision.

This is a new phenomenon of the internet age – and an especially important one.  Promoting advocacy is therefore a key goal for marketeers.

However, as it turns out this isn’t new – it is just more.  In the days before the internet we had a name for this phenomenon – it was called “word of mouth”.  Everyone knew it was important but of course it was incredibly difficult to measure, let alone influence. 

Advocacy has always a key element in the brand funnel.  All the internet has done is made this a lot more visible and measurable. 

What we now need to be able to do is really understand what makes some people become advocates and others not – and how we can influence this process.

The role of brand tracking surveys

As we can measure many of the immediate results of a digital marketing campaign we don’t need a brand tracker to measure this. 

However, if we want to build our brand over time, we still need to consider the cumulative impact of our marketing on brand perceptions (beyond the short term measurable impacts). 

That said, we need to carefully design any brand tracking survey to ensure it can deliver something of value.  And that means looking at how we can use such tools to deliver some of the things that the more immediate and direct measures we can get from the internet might not be able to tell us. That means using trackers more to:

  • Explore why people fail to engage.
  • Investigate why people fail to move all the way through the funnel.
  • Understand what we might try in future that can engage such people.
  • Look at what aspects of our brand image we should focus on in future campaigns.
  • Understand negative and positive aspects of our brand image we need to address.

Where brand trackers can become bogged down and stale is when they are used solely for tracking what has happened and never for testing any forward-thinking ideas.  Ultimately brand tracking surveys can only remain relevant if they are able to elevate what they deliver from simple metrics monitoring to providing insight for actionable change.

If you’d like to learn more about using market research to manage your brand image please feel free to contact us or have a look on our website for more information.

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