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Eye Tracking is Dead… Long Live Eye Tracking January 5, 2010

Posted by Jon Ward in Advertising, eye tracking, Market Research, Technology, Tobii, Usability & UX.
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There has been some recent Twitter activity regarding a blog post whereas one of our customers, Webcredible, stated they had seen a downturn in requests for eye tracking studies – and the non-believers quickly jumped on this and started hailing the death of eye tracking! Trenton, who wrote the article was talking from a personal level at Webcredible and his own observations, so I thought I would answer with mine…

As a company that solely supplies eye tracking solutions if there was such an impressive downturn in the demand for eye tracking equipment (and as we aren’t a research or usability company we rely on sales of systems, rentals and leases remember) we would have switched selling to comparing meerkats, or selling Hannah Montana accessories. The fact that we haven’t and we actually saw a large percentage increase on both new enquiries and sales last year says that this trend isn’t market wide. What we are experiencing is the next phase in the development of eye tracking whereas the early adopter phase – those that jumped onto the technology when it was new – are finding that the next phase of adopters are benefiting from their experiences, knowledge and learning from the problems they faced. As these second generation users come on-line they are hungry for success and business and will begin to innovate and create new techniques, deliverables and methodologies.

At this point if the early adopters don’t adapt and evolve then by the process of ‘natural selection’ some begin to fall by the wayside. Those that build upon their knowledge levels and abilities are ideally placed to lead the market going forward and begin to reap the rewards of being there from the beginning. What also happens at this time is that the clients themselves become more aware of the power, functionality and capabilities of eye tracking and may not be happy with just receiving a few heat maps any more – they know there is much more insight to be unlocked, and they are then more aware of shopping around (comparing meerkats anyone?) to increase the benefits and ROI from their investment. Other brands and clients also see the benefit of taking eye tracking in house to speed up every stage of their design process, prototyping and user testing and obviously this causes attrition for some eye tracking consultants.

If anyone has attended a Tobii user meeting or conference you may have heard Tommy, the Tobii in-house trainer, use an analogy about how people use eye tracking – and he compares this to a cake. Some people use eye tracking as the decorative sprinkles on top of the cake – they put a few outputs and a video or two with their reports to make it look ‘more attractive’. Then there are people that use eye tracking as the icing  on the cake, using some more depth analysis, maybe statistical data (AOI performance), cluster tools and more segmentation of data to add insight to their study. And then there are those that use eye tracking as the cake whereas their methodologies revolve around eye tracking and that it is part and parcel of any studies – not an add on.

Let’s look at the points that Trenton raised in his post :

The novelty has worn off : As I mentioned earlier, from Acuity’s point of view the ‘novelty’ certainly hasn’t worn off and we are busier than ever. If eye tracking is used as ‘sprinkles’ then after some time people will become blind to the benefits of eye tracking – as  a few heatmaps isn’t really giving you the insight you can achieve. If you move eye tracking into the ‘icing’ or ‘cake’ stage of the testing the client will benefit from the insights (both conscious and sub-conscious) that eye tracking can unlock. And with regards to getting heat maps of where people clicked – yes ClickTale and Crazy Egg can do that cheaper than eye tracking – but they don’t show the users mental journey through the page, their scan methodology, what confused them, what help their visual and mental attention and so on…..

It’s a nice  to have : again this goes back to how eye tracking is sold in to the client, as with anything if you ‘add-on’ costs for different types of testing then this will be the first thing to be discounted – if however the cost is integrated into the original costing – ” yes Mr. Customer, the project is ‘x’ and this includes eye tracking, reports, deliverables, focus group, etc, etc” then it isn’t an order line to be crossed out. Pay extra for some sprinkles Mr. Customer? No, thanks…. and this is also affected by the data the customer is being given in return for his investment – if they are simply sprinkles then the client will soon tire of a few heatmaps, if you give them in depth insight with obvious value and benefit to them there shouldn’t be any problem with getting the client to commit.

It’s too expensive – there are now dozens of manufacturers of eye tracking systems from homemade units to market leading products like the Tobii range, and many are specialised in certain market areas (MRI scanners for example) but there is by no means a monopoly. What you do have is choice –  the more established systems have advanced software that can make setting up, running and analysing a test very simple, giving you a huge range of tools to work with and meaning you can give detailed data back to your client. Yes, there is obviously a cost attached to getting a system but you can now buy, rent or lease a system – or go ‘pay as you go’. As long as you budget accurately from the outset when you tender for work, there should be a solution to suit your business. In addition if you are giving your client the ‘cake’ or ‘icing’ then you have a business advantage of your competition – and by using an eye tracking pro-actively you can monitor peoples web sites, identify potential problems and use this as an in-road to try to generate new business.

During 2010 we are going to be hitting the road and doing some roadshows around the UK as well as the usual trade events, and of course the Tobii events throughout 2010, and we would be happy to show you the new functionality within eye tracking, how to pull out hidden insight and why the demand for eye tracking is a long way from dropping off.

Eye tracking is dead… long live eye tracking!

FOOT NOTE : Due to some more ‘traffic’ and Tweets I have added my reply to Bob’s comment (below) to this blog post – eye tracking shows that most people don’t read past the first or second comment so there was more chance of someone reading it if I posted it here! The original reason for this post was to state the Acuity view of the  market, not to go in depth into ROI, proven methodologies and so on – that is for another time and another day.

Hi Bob, thanks for the comment – as for not very convincing I think you perhaps missed partially my point. Trenton’s post was about the downturn in Webcredible’s demand for eye tracking studies – this was picked up by a couple of other blogs and turned into ‘world wide crisis for eye tracking studies’ (not in so many words but a global generalisation was made). My point here was to say that as a business we are around 25% busier through the recession than we were before it – and although I would like to say that is solely down to the Acuity team it is down to a heightened interest and wider uptake of eye tracking. Acuity bought the Tobii reseller function from Bunnyfoot some 20 months ago as we saw the potential for eye tracking in the user experience, MR and digital agency markets – something Bunnyfoot (as a player within some of these fields) was not well placed to do. Since then we have seen an increase in enquiries from all market sectors which is still on the rise.

The fact we are most pleased about is the increased uptake within brands and manufacturers as they take the technology in house, and also as the market matures we are seeing people moving on from printing off a few outputs to actually diving deeper into the results and outputs they have. Questioning the participant after the testing to check recall, and matching the data to create much more in depth studies and reporting. This additional insight and work is paying dividends to our customers that are making this extra effort and we are pleased that some of our clients have recently secured some major global brands.

From our point of view – we don’t do user testing, we don’t do MR and we don’t test people – we supply the solutions that people require, and as part of this we train our customers on the best use of functionality within the software they have, matched to their particular market sector. We don’t preach our methodologies but show customers how to merge eye tracking into their existing processes to add extra value. Unfortunately in any business where there is a reasonable (or sometimes high) level of staff turnover the knowledge imparted to new members of the team is diluted and some people seldom take the time out to learn the new functionality a software release may deliver, or check out new methodologies going forward.

As the UK market is the most mature and advanced commercial eye tracking market in the world we are starting to see people lose their footing in their marketplace as newcomers, or existing customers, with more desire to advance and utilise the tools at hand are making headway.

Just as Trenton’s piece was personal from the Webcredible standpoint, this is from ours – although as the people that supply eye tracking equipment to the whole of the UK and Ireland, across commercial, scientific and academic sectors we have a much broader picture of what is happening at the moment.

Comments»

1. Guy Redwood - January 5, 2010

Great post, could even inspire me to write an article too.

Guy

2. Bob Dobalina - January 5, 2010

Nice rebuttal, but not very convincing.

Jon Ward - January 5, 2010

Hi Bob, thanks for the comment – as for not very convincing I think you perhaps missed partially my point. Trenton’s post was about the downturn in Webcredible’s demand for eye tracking studies – this was picked up by a couple of other blogs and turned into ‘world wide crisis for eye tracking studies’ (not in so many words but a global generalisation was made). My point here was to say that as a business we are around 25% busier through the recession than we were before it – and although I would like to say that is solely down to the Acuity team it is down to a heightened interest and wider uptake of eye tracking. Acuity bought the Tobii reseller function from Bunnyfoot some 20 months ago as we saw the potential for eye tracking in the user experience, MR and digital agency markets – something Bunnyfoot (as a player within some of these fields) was not well placed to do. Since then we have seen an increase in enquiries from all market sectors which is only increasing.

The fact we are most pleased about is the increased uptake within brands and manufacturers as they take the technology in house, and also as the market matures we are seeing people moving on from printing off a few outputs to actually diving deeper into the results and outputs they have. Questioning the participant after the testing to check recall, and matching the data to create much more in depth studies and reporting. This aditional insight and work is paying dividends to our customers that are making this extra effort and we are pleased that some of our clients have recently secured some major global brands.

From our point of view – we don’t do user testing, we don’t do MR and we don’t test people – we supply the solutions that people require, and as part of this we train our customers on the best use of functionality within the software they have, matched to their particular market sector. We don’t preach our methodologies but show customers how to merge eye tracking into their existing processes to add extra value. Unfortunately in any business where there is a reasonable (or sometimes high) level of staff turnover the knowledge imparted to new members of the team is diluted and some people seldom take the time out to learn the new functionality a software release may deliver, or check out new methodologies going forward.

As the UK market is the most mature and advanced commercial eye tracking market in the world we are starting to see people lose their footing in their marketplace as newcomers, or existing customers, with more desire to advance and utilise the tools at hand are making headway.

Just as Trenton’s piece was personal from the Webcredible standpoint, this is from ours – although as the people that supply eye tracking equipment to the whole of the UK and Ireland, across commercial, scientific and academic sectors we have a much broader picture of what is happening at the moment.


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