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Three Reasons Why Swarm Intelligence Trumps Polls and Focus Groups

by Louis Rosenberg  |  
February 16, 2016

Businesses can't survive without researching what consumers want from their products. And with over 27 million new businesses opening in the US every year, understanding customers has never been so valuable. Yet focus groups, a powerful method to research consumer preferences, haven't changed much since the Mad Men days.

Creating focus groups is still a time-intensive and expensive process that makes little use of the vast technological infrastructure that didn't exist when Don Draper was downing bourbon with his clients.

These days, the primary uses of technology to quantify consumer preference are online polls and surveys. They're everywhere, allowing users to rate everything—books, movies, hotels, restaurants, etc.

The problem, however, is that typical online polls and surveys have been shown to be flawed instruments that distort consumer sentiment. So, market researchers are in a bind, forced to choose between flawed information gathered through online polls and surveys, or expensive information gathered through old-fashioned focus groups.

That's where swarm intelligence—a new method understanding large populations—comes in.

Swarm Intelligence Defined

Rather than poll the group as individuals and finding the average sentiments through number-crunching, users form online swarms that can "think together" in real time, forming a unified collective intelligence that converges on the sentiments they can best agree upon.

This method is modeled after Mother Nature. Many social species pool their collective knowledge, wisdom, and intuition, and turn them into rapid optimized decisions, harnessing their group intelligence as a flexible living system rather than as a set of crude polling data.

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Louis Rosenberg, PhD, is CEO of Unanimous AI, a technology company that develops solutions using swarm intelligence.

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  • by Dave Nestoff Tue Feb 16, 2016 via web

    It sounds intriguing, Louis. The idea that groupthink is a more legitimate representation of what will actually happen isn't a stretch. One point I wish this article would have covered is the logistical aspect.

    I can tell this is a new idea, and probably hasn't gained traction yet. But there are a lot of questions. Who is in a "swarm"? How do they become part of it? Where (and how) does this information get collected?

    I'm curious enough to have joined the beta, and I commend such a divergent mindset. Even if it's still a little nebulous.

  • by Kelly Tue Feb 16, 2016 via web

    Interesting, and I see how it could have some important applications, such as reducing group bias by being able to gauge simultaneous response of a group or sample in real time.

    However, regarding the first example that you give i.e., Jurassic Park vs Mad Max... As a marketer concerned with the bottom line above all else, I'm going to care more about the overall box office receipts, in this case, Jurassic Park, than I am about critical group think (Mad Max). If a section of the population is going to influence others toward a service or product, in this case, going to see the #1 summer blockbuster, then I have to vote for that service or product as being the best from a marketing perspective.

  • by Margaret Lane Wed May 4, 2016 via mobile

    There's an argument in here supporting groupthink -- a dynamic that focus groups are often criticized for producing. A catch 22.

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