MEMS and Sensors — The Future of Consumer Insights

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Rhiza CEO Josh Knauer meets with MEMS Congress delegates Chuck Gritton of Hillcrest Labs and Stuart Faris of Cinder Solutions on the untapped potential of microdata in marketing and advertising. Photo credit: Karen Lightman

For someone who has thought about information sharing and data governance for the last 20 years, I know surprisingly little about the inner workings of Microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) and sensors. While it was a bit daunting to be a keynote speaker at this year’s MEMS Congress, a gathering of all of the industry’s top companies and the brilliant minds behind them, it was also extremely exciting. Finally I would get to talk to the very people who are building what could be a revolutionary consumer data powerhouse for marketers and advertisers.

Is the $1.1 trillion we spend in global marketing worth it?

Let’s take a step back: Between spending money on advertising, coupons, shelf placement and market research the global marketing spend is estimated to reach $1.1 trillion this year alone. Most of the decisions on how that money is spent are still made consulting traditional survey data. There are a number of issues with survey data, the most obvious being low sample sizes and the respondent’s need to relay socially desirable answers even when they aren’t true. In other words, just because I say I love to go jogging every morning, doesn’t mean I actually go jogging every morning. The technology to measure what people are truly doing is out there and is on the verge of being at a price point that will allow it to be pervasive, marketers and advertisers just need to figure out a way to use it.  A model for how this “truth” data can be realized is currently underway at Major League Baseball.

How is baseball leading the consumer insights collection?

Major League Baseball is on the cutting edge when it comes to capturing and studying microdata. MEMS and sensors track everything on the field and measure games in unprecedented ways: from following a single player’s eye movement to an entire team’s coordinated response to a fly ball. Consumer brands already capture a lot of their customers’ engagement online but so far very little is known about what happens in brick and mortar stores. Early technology like tracking cell phones in stores or relying on self-reported “customer journey” logs are riddled with problems and tend to be insufficient. Instead of a baseball field, imagine a store full of sensors. If MEMS and sensor technology makes it into stores we could track the way a customer interacts with products, how they move through the store and which customer segment they belong to– all with unparalleled precision. We could unlock a new universe of insights that could be significantly larger than our digital footprint.

Why hasn’t data from MEMS and sensors revolutionized marketing and advertising?

Three reasons:

1) Most sensor and MEMS data is proprietary

2) The data lives in database silos and doesn’t come in one format

3) Siloed data in proprietary formats can’t just be exported into a spreadsheet and compared easily

The call to action for MEMS and sensor producers is to agree on data standards, build devices that can communicate with each other and make them accessible in an open data ecosystem. All major retailers and brands want to measure different things and their focus is understandably on getting the data they most urgently need first, before lobbying for standards and interoperability. In the coming years, because of predictable market forces, we’ll witness the mainstream-ification of MEMS and sensors, they will be ubiquitous. If MEMS and sensor producers lead the effort by innovating their product in ways that will set standards and interoperability within each sensor node, they can be on the forefront of the amazing opportunity this data presents. At Rhiza, we’re looking forward to helping them package and monetize that data for the marketing world.