The Applications of Real Time Audience Response Market Research to Early Stage Content Development

The Applications of Real Time Audience Response Market Research to Early Stage Content Development

I have been involved in marketing and marketing research since I was a boy. My Father, Willis Duff, came out of the Media world having cut his teeth as a morning disc jockey when he was 13 years old and working his way to the top of one of the largest media companies of its time, Metromedia by the time he was 30 years old.

He got tired of working for others and decided to start his own market research company called Entertainment Response Analysis (ERA), one of a handful of companies using a modified version of a lie detector, GSR analysis, and attitudinal real time response (RTR) dials, both together and in stand alone mode. This was in the early 1970’s and coincidentally the company I am now working for was doing the same type of research in Burbank California and in fact pioneered much of the early research in this methodology. Unlike ASI Entertainment, ERA was focused initially on Radio and TV News and on-air talent and recruiting research.

Many summers while I was in middle and high school I worked with ERA punching data, working with the Mini computers, learning assembly language and basic survey design and later Basic programming and rubbing elbows with pioneering market researchers and early adopter technology employees Dad hired.

After college I went to work in Silicon Valley and exercised lots of different skills as a sales application engineer, direct sales representative, sales manager, marketing manager, product development and research director and later as a VP of Sales and Marketing for wholly owned subsidiary (at the time) of the Acer Group called Dyna Micro. My father helped me understand how to apply market research to my job in the capacity of VP of marketing and how to gather information on what ads and which ad venues were generating sales and I was able to use my programming skills and database background to develop early implementations of CRM. I became involved and invested in a company focused on cutting edge software controlled data acquisition and monitoring and control systems as related to HVAC, security, power systems and other industrial systems during this period with a company called SourceNet and Wisdom Electric.

All of these diverse experiences and relations eventually led me ASI Entertainment and I have now been here for 15 years working on and with data acquisition hardware and software and marketing research methodologies.

What I want to talk about in this article is the role of real time market research as a constructive tool in the content development cycle. One paradigm that has held market research back is the view that it is primarily a diagnostic tool. While it is a diagnostic tool, I feel that its greater potential benefit is as feedback mechanism during the creative phase of content development. This is particularly true of the type of research ASI does which usually incorporates real time response (RTR), audience research and development methodologies.

ASI has the ability to perform in-depth audience feedback of content that looks at the nuances of audience response to content, such as character relations, dialogue, plot, levels of action, comedy, drama, pacing and all the things that creative content producers are concerned with. While most professional content developers are highly expert and extremely talented in these areas, methodologies such as those performed by ASI enables early concept testing of the critical elements of a pilot or an episode and can provide writers, directors and even actors with input that can help them optimize the important nuances of their creative process to prepare content to be research optimized before it goes through routine traditional diagnostic testing through the various diagnostic testing systems and later ratings metrics.

My question to the creative teams of the great content producers remains “why not use real time testing through out every stage of the development of content?” While there are clearly time and budgetary constraints, the value of having the content already optimized before it gets to the normal diagnostic stage of market research testing seems to me likely to potentially provide substantially higher success rates for content developers and also could save a lot on costly course corrections to the content strategy at a later stage. I think this is even more true for ad agencies. Real time content analysis of advertising provides agencies and advertisers a platform to really get ad concepts and specific content elements and flow optimized for the target audience before a lot of money is spent to produce the finished content and even more spent to place the content. An ASI test and data can be initiated and completed with just a few days notice and actionable data is ready on the day the test is conducted. With as much money is spent on advertising campaigns it seems logical to me that creative and research teams could work in a more constructive and proactive relation with one another. I guess I’m just an optimist and yet I’ve spent most of my adult life wondering about this.

While an increasing number of creative content companies are applying this approach, it remains a mystery to me why this application of real time market research isn’t far more broadly applied. I believe that part of the issue is that there has been a long term and unfortunate tension between market research and content development roles in most corporate cultures. That is very understandable to me and yet I believe business and creative developers are losing out because of this unfortunate paradigm.

I am rock and roll music composer and my band “Pure Light” is pretty sensitive to having our work judged and up until recently would have been pretty reluctant to have it tested through market research. That is changing for me now.

Now I simply post rough cuts on the ReverbNation WEB site under my band, Pure Light, and if it gets hits and positive comments then I know its all right and if it doesn’t I go back to the drawing board, re-writing, re-cutting and then re-releasing. Sometimes I get really good constructive criticism from my “fans” and other “artists” who are subscribed to “Pure Light.” Its market research on the cheap but I’ve learned the value of this kind of semi real time response.

I am an amateur musician but an accomplished lead guitar player and because of my totally amateur status, I regularly release rough cuts to the Internet and almost entirely for my own market research purposes. At some point I would like to bring my music in for RTR testing and focus groups among my target audience. At this point I don’t think I’ve developed my song writing and singing skills far enough to justify this. However, if ever I become a full time professional song writer, producer or band member, I will absolutely conduct RTR on my songs. Of course doing concerts provides its own form of real time response doesn’t it. I may a bit too experienced to start touring at this time but perhaps after my daughter goes off to college I’ll start a band called “The Old Guys.”