ClickZ - SapientNitro Pairs With Iota to Bring Consumer Data to Life

By Kate Kaye

With all the hype about big data, it's easy for marketers to get lost in the information onslaught. But SapientNitro and Iota Partners are thinking beyond it, recognizing that consumers are creating and interacting with data every day. SapientNitro, an integrated agency, has joined with Chicago-based Iota Partners to develop ways to gather and employ data to better understand how the virtual and the real interconnect.

"We're very interested in building interactive things that generate data," said Rick Robinson, a co-founder of Iota Partners. "There's a big misconception that data gathering needs to be passive and non-intrusive," he continued. According to Robinson, Iota develops projects that actually facilitate or even encourage interactions that produce data that can be used to understand consumer behavior.

As a small shop, Iota expects SapientNitro to add scale to what the consumer research firm already does. SapientNitro has around 7,000 employees worldwide and works with brands including Chrysler, Citi, Coca-Cola, Lufthansa, Target, and Vodafone.

A benefit of pairing Iota and SapientNitro, said Iota co-founder John Cain, is the ability to "build big algorithms" and "things that work at the data mining scale." As Cain puts it, "Sapient's bones are that of a technology firm."

A deal announced yesterday amounts to a group hire of Iota talent by SapientNitro, a division of Sapient. Staff from the boutique firm will move into SapientNitro's Chicago office, according to Sapient CMO Bill Kanarick. "While they're physically resident in Chicago...the capability is for the service of the company overall," he said.

Kanarick has a vision of steering the agency into the next frontier of marketing research, which goes beyond focus groups, surveys, and Nielsen Boxes to actual monitoring of consumers - those who have opted in to such monitoring, of course.

Iota has developed a tiny camera that is placed on household products, allowing researchers to evaluate how people are using products in a real-life scenario. The idea, explained Kanarick, is to answer questions such as, "How long does this tube of toothpaste last in a household of four?" and does consumer use "affect the way the product should be marketed?"

The result, said Kanarick, is "hundreds of hours of video" of people using various products. "It's the digitization of the physical space." Iota has applied similar technology to in-store consumer monitoring, which also requires people to agree to being observed on camera.

Gathering data about real-world consumer experiences over extended periods allows for genuine predictability, suggested Kanarick. SapientNitro and Iota also incorporate other data sets from clients, along with third-party information on web interactions, credit card transactions, demographics, and the like to paint consumer portraits.

"Our clients struggle to try to make sense of it all," Kanarick said. "How do you turn that data into something actionable, into actual insights?"

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