What You Should Know About Digital Tracking

Gathering data alone is not enough. As market researchers, we also have to make sense of the vast quantities of information collected.

This is why Toluna is buying Crossense, a startup with unique digital tracking technology that keep tabs on consumers’ digital behaviour across different platforms. This will help us to mine richer data so that our clients can calibrate their marketing and social media campaigns for the best results.

The Technology behind Digital Tracking

Digital tracking, as we know, gathers insights about consumers through their behaviour and interaction, often without their awareness.

But how exactly is this information being collected? According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), digital tracking “may involve sophisticated web technology or may simply involve a manual entry into a historical profile after a conversation, email or online chat with a customer service representative”.

Sounds simple, right? But how does the technology behind the research tool differ across companies? And how do you compare the various offerings and decide which one best meets your objectives?

I posed these questions to a few friends with expertise in the area. They include coders, developers, market research professionals and even competitors. What seems clear is that the differences, if any, aren’t clear at all.

While most companies tout their technology as the best in the market, the end results appear very similar even though the prices vary wildly – with differences of up to 500 percent!

Here is what I’ve gathered about digital tracking:

  1. Big boys rule: It seems that no matter how good the coders are, they will somehow be restricted by the big players, such as how iOS and Android only allow certain types of information to be captured
  2. TMI: There is way too much information out there (I still don’t like the term big data) and analysts are at a loss on where to start
  3. High set­up costs: The setup or R&D costs of the technology are usually the highest and unfortunately the first users, or customers, to buy-in often end up bearing the brunt of this. For instance, an R&D team does a proof of concept and decides it requires X amount of money to set up a system that can be replicated for different clients. However, someone needs to pay first. Guess who gets penalised? The first client to get on board with the idea, of course.

What Clients and Vendors Should Note

You could argue that it is the clients who don’t know where to start or what to ask. Often, the brief given is extremely simple. For example, let’s say that I want to know the online digital surfing behaviour of my consumers. This is straightforward, and 90 percent of vendors would propose a 30-minute quantitative survey, which is a much cheaper method.

But honestly, how many of us will be hardworking enough to list the 100 websites we visit or remember all these sites in order to fill in the survey?

The other 10 percent of vendors would propose digital tracking, plug­ins, cookies and so on. These boast the ‘wow’ factor by promising clients that they collect millions of websites visited by consumers by the second, with great precision.

Bam! The client is sold. Then come the disclaimers, which most vendors will not go into. For example, will this method track across all devices? What are its limitations? What kind of data points will be used?

The biggest headache, assuming clients can afford to pay for the research, is what happens after the data has been collected. How does one digest the millions of data points and websites to make sense of them all? Does the output justify the high cost, time and effort spent on this data collection methodology?

Here is my advice to both clients and vendors in deciding which method to opt for:

  1. Set clear goals: Clients should ensure a clear hypothesis from the start. This can be dynamic as the data evolves and they decide how the information is sliced and diced, and which angles require more focus. Clients should determine what they want out of the exercise.
  2. Be transparent: Vendors should be upfront on:
  • The technology: the limitations and the data they are able to capture.
  • The results: how data will be analysed and the output that can be expected.
  • The product: is this the vanilla version? If so, is the R&D or technology and development team able to develop version 2.0, that might involve in­-app usage and so on? This involves legal and other implications that are topics best saved for another day.

Digital tracking has its benefits, but you need the right tools in order to figure out how the data can help your business.