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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image of Louis Rosenberg

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