Imagine a camera crew following you around and recording your every move. It would probably get a bit unwieldy in the office lift or corner shop, but researchers are hoping a new technique called “lifelogging” will produce the same results without the hassle.
Lifelogging involves consumers wearing a small digital camera around their neck. This automatically records all their movements throughout the day without the person themselves needing to operate a camera, which might interrupt the flow of their experiences.
While academics have long used lifelogging for social projects and it is often used to help people with memory problems such as Alzheimer’s disease, it is now being tested by brands. Companies in multiple sectors, from media to soft drinks, are using lifelogging techniques to get closer to consumers.
Daniel Green, head of research for Danone, uses lifelogging to gain a better understanding of what the brand’s customers want at breakfast time. With several product lines suitable for the first meal of the day, including the Actimel and Activia yoghurt brands, Danone needs to understand how consumers behave at this time of the morning.
“Lifelogging provides a view of a consumer’s whole life rather than edited highlights.”
Dr Bob Cook, Firefish
Normal inquisitive research techniques don’t work at breakfast time, says Green. He suggests: “It can be really destructive to have an interviewer there, so the passive nature of lifelogging makes it ideal for finding insights without interfering too much.”
Dr Bob Cook, board director at research agency Firefish, says he is now being asked by clients such as Danone about projects using Microsoft SenseCams, which are the usual choice for lifelogging. He explains: “Lifelogging deals with actual experiences rather than what most people tell researchers or brands. It provides a view of their whole life rather than edited highlights.”
Lifelogging is not entirely new. SenseCam manufacturer Microsoft has been experimenting with the technology for several years (see box, top right). Gordon Bell, a senior researcher with the business, wrote about the technique in last year’s book about the future, Total Recall. But rather than Microsoft itself, it is brands like Danone that are taking lifelogging into the commercial market.
Dr Cook is working on a top-secret project for one of the UK’s media owners. “We tracked weekend media behaviour, seeing the differences between how people treat their Saturdays and Sundays,” says Dr Cook. “While many media companies tend to have weekend programmes or strategies, the way people use media on those two days is entirely different.”
Firefish also ran a pilot at last year’s Glastonbury music festival. The four-day event has multiple brands appearing on site, including Orange and Red Bull. By studying the footage from lifelogging cameras, the team discovered there were only minimal interactions with branded material.
“Despite newspaper headlines about how the festival has gone corporate, people don’t actually pick up too much brand contact. It’s very brandless,” Dr Cook says. “We’ll go to the V Festival and see what sort of images we pick up there.”
For marketers, this kind of insight about Glastonbury suggests several possibilities. One is that the festival has correctly judged its audience’s affinity for brands and kept them discreet on site. Another is that there is more opportunity for other businesses not already involved to do more in future with the festival, since it appears brand encounters are not overwhelming visitors.
Dr Cook, who will unveil further findings at this year’s MRS conference Research 2010, says that lifelogging can work well for brands in understanding several areas better: it can provide information on what people buy and when; how people consume media; and it can assist brands in getting people to change their behaviour.
A soft drinks brand, for example, might use lifelogging to monitor the number of times a day that someone buys a drink. Does someone drink most at their desk during the working day, on the go, in the home or with friends? Do they purchase drinks at the supermarket or the corner shop?
Lifelogging can also give context to purchasing decisions. Dr Cook says that if a brand like Cadbury or Nestlé wanted to study the consumption of confectionery over Christmas, they might ask consumers to keep a diary of what they ate and where. But this leaves the context of the occasion unexplained.
He adds: “Someone might keep a diary of their chocolate consumption, but you didn’t get to see that it was handed to them by their niece and then they shared it with another three people. Other technologies can be one-dimensional.”
Lois Schorah, insight and innovation director at GSK Consumer Healthcare, says it is this element of lifelogging that most attracts her to the technique. “It would be really useful to see what people are looking at on a shelf, how long for and whether they are looking at the information on the back of the packet,” she says. “It has lots of potential for understanding shoppers. It could be quite a flexible tool.”
Lifelogging can also help companies better understand how consumers use media. But one of the problems with lifelogging media use is that there is so much contact with different platforms – including TV, mobile phones, computers at work and laptops – that there is hours and hours of footage to sift though.
The latest software compatible with the lifelogging cameras can now recognise environments, logos and objects, says Dr Cook.
So if BSkyB was interested in how people use media in their homes or only when using a remote control, the software can pick up on these details.
Lifelogging can also help brands make consumers change their behaviour. The footage can be used to show people how they act and demonstrate how this differs from their reported behaviour.
Dr Cook carried out one project looking at levels of environmental awareness among consumers. People claimed they were very interested in green issues such as recycling and saving energy, but the lifelogging footage showed something different. “They realised that they weren’t being as green as they could have been,” he reports.
This type of insight could be important for many marketers. Government departments often run marketing campaigns based on how consumers need to alter their behaviour, for example to eat healthier or be more active. By identifying where people fall down on their good intentions, the government might be able to work out how best to target the marketing messages.
Danone’s Green says that the insight gathering potential of lifelogging is the most important aspect of the tool for his own brand. He says Danone’s consumer research used to be largely testing advertising, marketing and packaging before launch. These days, it is much more insight-driven.
“We are spending less time showing stuff to people and more time listening to their opinions. This means a lot less time is spent checking advertising because we receive the insights earlier, which help us design the marketing better. That makes it a much more efficient process,” he says.
Although early reports suggest lifelogging could be a valuable marketing and research tool, the technique is not without its disadvantages. Dr Cook admits that projects can generate a huge amount of footage, which can make the post-filming process drawn out.
GSK’s Schorah says this doesn’t put her off using SenseCams, but it does mean that companies need to have a great deal of trust in their research agencies. They need to be able to ensure that the agencies will pick up any relevant detail in so many hours of footage.
Ian Pierpoint, director at research agency The Sound, says the sheer amount of footage available through lifelogging means that brands will have to wade through to find insights. “That seems like a lot of wasted time,” he warns.
Others are more enthusiastic. Danone’s Green believes that SenseCams have the potential to revolutionise the way brands carry out research. While his company would never use just one type of research technique, he thinks strategic use of lifelogging offers a level of insight that cannot be replicated elsewhere.
“It is no more time-consuming than any other ethnographic study,” he argues. “It’s a small tool that could have huge application.”
The Microsoft SenseCam
The SenseCam is a digital camera, worn around the neck, which takes around 3,000 images per day. These images, which are all taken automatically without the wearer’s involvement, then build up to become a visual diary.
Until recently, SenseCams have been used for academic or social programmes rather than commercial marketing or research. Microsoft says it is currently collaborating on projects involving monitoring food intake with dieticians and co-ordinating disaster response.
One of the SenseCam’s most high-profile projects has been its use in memory-loss projects at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge. It has been used with patients who suffer episodes of memory loss to help them understand their behaviour or actions during this time. Early trials indicate that reviewing images can help people develop lasting recall of these episodes.