Bringing consumer intelligence to life
We welcome discover.ai to the Talkwalker family, as their strategists join our Activate team. In this blog, we discover what makes them tick, and how they turn consumer intelligence into rich human stories and cultural insights, through a three-voice interview with Jonathan Williams, founder and CEO, Helen Vicary, strategist, and Foivos Dousos, associate director and team leader at discover.ai.
How did discover.ai come about?
Jonathan Williams (J.W.): discover.ai came about from a feeling that there had to be a better way of discovering deep and rich human insight. Traditional methods of consumer-based exploratory research have changed very little over the past few years, yet the availability of online data sources and the power of machine learning suggest there were innovative new ways of working to be discovered. New approaches that went beyond big data analytics to accelerate the human journey of discovery.
Helen Vicary (H.V.): In a nutshell, I think discover.ai came about from a desire to make the process of discovery as fun and fluid as possible, to make the process smart and painless so that all the effort and excitement can be poured lovingly into the findings.
In a world of data, why do you think human stories are so important?
Foivos Dousos (F.D.): I’d like to challenge this distinction - data comes from people; people who live complex, nuanced, often contradictory lives. We need to keep that in mind - there is no such thing as ‘data’ in the abstract when we talk about market research. If there is no space for actual human stories within our analysis, what’s the point? We need to find ways to scale our learnings without erasing all nuance.
H.V. Data gives you only one part of the puzzle. It can give a sense of scale, of generalized truths and patterns, but I don’t think it can really tell you why any of that matters. The human stories we look at in our work say more in 20 words than reams of numbers. I’m constantly amazed when I find a quote from a person that has perfectly, incisively, and accidentally summarized a theme I’ve been trying to conceptualize for days. That’s really the beauty of qualitative research.
J.W. Ultimately, it’s about better decision making. All too often business decision makers are too distant from the real needs, experiences, and emotions of their end customers. Data alone is not enough to bridge this gap. The need to put human-centricity at the heart of decision making has long been a top goal of CEOs, and new insight innovation like discover.ai help make it possible.
Without giving away too many secrets, how do you uncover those stories?
H.V. It’s tempting to think that these human stories just bubble up naturally out of the dataset, but of course that’s not quite the case. I find our research method to be very introspective, because when you’re selecting and examining sources that feel powerful, you have to question why it is that they’ve affected you in that way. No project I do is free from my own fingerprints, so by reflexively acknowledging my own perspective, I hope I do a better job at faithfully representing others’ too.
F.D. It all starts with how we sample our sources: we actively curate where we look, to make sure we map rich online territories full of interesting stories. That’s why in multi-market projects we always work with locals. Even though we look at online sources, we want to understand how people on the ground interact with the digital world.
Besides that, the AI part of our platform is constantly learning from us. Every time we work on a new project the platform learns from the types of content we – as analysts – tend to prioritize. So the next time the platform will bring us relevant content quicker, making our lives easier.
Would you give an example of a project you’ve brought alive with these insights?
H.V. One research question that brought up a lot of unexpected answers was to do with how Gen Z are trying to take back control of their lives in the aftermath of the pandemic. This project uncovered areas of insight about radical fortitude, tender naivete, care-worn resignation, and revolutionary sociality, all manifesting in relation to a category that I’ve certainly heard casually dismissed as irrelevant to this generation. The process of running this project was a surprising and invigorating experience.
F.D. I’ve worked on more than 50 projects since joining discover.ai, which is extraordinary in itself. I personally enjoy projects focusing on food and flavor innovation. Our platform allows us to get a sense of how people relate to different flavors in different cultural contexts, and it’s fascinating to get a sense of how the same ingredient can have so many different meanings around the world.
What does the future bring as the team integrates into Talkwalker?
H.V. I can’t wait to find out! I hope that we’ll have a lot to learn from each other, that we’ll continue to refine our methods. Personally, I’m very excited to be part of a tech-focused company and all the opportunities for innovation that will bring. I love the global scope we have at DAI, and it seems like we’ll be able to expand our cultural reach even further as part of Talkwalker.
F.D. We’ve always relied on online sources to run our analysis, so working with a larger organization that not only has access to a huge range of online sources but has also developed extremely sophisticated ways to analyze these sources, has the potential to transform our work. I’m looking forward to seeing the new ways we can learn from each other in order to produce better work.
J.W. We see so much opportunity because what discover.ai and Talkwalker do are complementary.We’ve already seen this with our existing clients before we came together. Where Talkwalker is well placed to help clients measure and predict ‘what’ is happening, discover.ai provides the deep dive human richness that answers the ‘why’ and what this means for brand growth opportunities. Together, we can give our clients a complete picture of the data and insights that will drive better decision making and boost their businesses. Our complementary skill sets and perspectives should open up some exciting innovations in technology and services in the future.
Thank you Helen, Foivos, and Jonathan!
Talkwalker & discover.ai
discover.ai will play a pivotal role in providing further strategic value from Talkwalker’s Consumer Intelligence Acceleration Platform™ with cultural and consumer insights. This is a key milestone on a journey to build even richer and deeper insight into the company’s service offering. discover.ai’s unique combination of machine learning and human insight means Talkwalker can now build into their services a deeper reading into the human stories and emotive human drivers that lie beneath and behind the intelligence they provide through data.
“We’re not just providing brands and agencies with powerful consumer intelligence from a multitude of data sources,” said Tod Nielsen, Talkwalker’s CEO. “We have learned from our clients, and the wider industry, there is a need for professional services to help make this intelligence more actionable. With the addition of discover.ai to our already fast developing Talkwalker Activate professional services, we can provide a high-level consultancy layer on top of our powerful platform, that explores and discovers, at scale and at human scale, with rigour but also with resonance. Inspiring brands with rich human stories and cultural insights, and getting them closer to their customers.”