Facial recognition: getting us closer to real behaviour

In our recently launched research, Tech Trends Transforming The Insight Industry, we explore four tech trends that we believe will reshape our industry by creating new opportunities to understand consumer behaviour.

One of the most exciting of these is facial recognition. The technology hit headlines when Apple began using facial recognition to power Face ID within the iPhone X. Face ID gives iPhone X owners the ability to unlock your phone and authorise payments just by looking at it.

Of course, facial recognition technology is not new but its inclusion within mobile devices is significant – particularly for our industry. It will create new opportunities to get closer to real behaviour than ever before, transforming the way we approach ad effectiveness research and UX testing. So, how will it do this?

Understanding emotion in real time, in context

Tapping into the facial recognition technology built into smartphones will allow us to understand emotional reactions in context, at the point at which they happen. This will be transformational for our industry, particularly when combined with passive tracking.

Not only will you be able to obtain behavioural data on how a consumer interacts with your brand, you’ll also be able to identify the moments that provoke an emotional response.  Harnessing facial recognition technology in this way will transform ad effectiveness research, allowing advertisers to understand emotional reactions to online ads whilst they’re in market.

And this may only be the beginning of what the technology will enable us to do. We expect to see a move towards understanding emotion on an individual basis. In 2015, Facebook filed a patent based on the idea of using smartphone cameras to detect a user’s emotional state and then serve up relevant content based upon this. With the technology now able to support this, it may not be long until this idea becomes a reality.

UX testing revamped

Facial recognition technology will also reshape UX testing, spelling the end of SUS scores as an industry-wide metric. The technology will allow us to get beyond swipe analytics. And to understand the moments that delight and frustrate as they happen, without asking consumers to retrospectively rate their experiences. This will be invaluable in taking UX testing outside the viewing facility, and facilitating UX testing in context.

So when can we expect to see facial recognition technology being used as a research tool?

We believe this will happen within the next two years. Apple intends to make some of the bio-metric information it collects available to third-party app developers. But not for marketing and advertising purposes. Yet. As companies like Google, whose business model is built around advertising, introduce the technology and as consumer adoption of these devices hits the mainstream, the opportunity presented by facial data will be too valuable to pass by. We believe that with consumers’ permission, it will be opened up to marketers, advertisers and most excitingly for us, insight professionals within two years.

Excited by the prospect of facial recognition technology? Here’s what you should do right now.

Get familiar with passive tracking

Once insight professionals are given permission to use facial data, it is likely to be accessible through a passive tracking tool. To get ahead, start to familiarise yourself with this methodology. Understand the different use cases, the questions it can help you answer, even try it yourself! A solid understanding of passive tracking will stand you in good stead for when facial recognition hits the scene.

Looking to see which other tech trends will impact the industry? Download our latest report to learn how voice, chatbots and AR will transform the way we do research.