Richard Marks, Director at Research The Media Ltd, looks at how TouchPoints has evolved over the years and why it still leads the way in uncovering important consumer insights.
I was involved with TouchPoints before the baby was even named TouchPoints.
I can remember receiving the brief for that first project, raising my eyebrows and thinking, 'Well, good luck with that’. It did seem incredibly ambitious, but sometimes you have to stick your neck out to make a breakthrough and, thankfully, the IPA did.
It’s a sign of the rapid speed of technological change that the first wave we did used PDAs, at that point cutting edge devices that had been deployed so successfully on the BBC Daily Life Survey, in many ways the template for what became TouchPoints.
The concept of the digital diary remains at the core of the survey nearly a decade on, but now we live in the age of the smart phone.
TouchPoints respondents use their fingers to keep their diary up to date, as opposed to those annoying little plastic PDA cocktail sticks that we kept having to buy replacements for back in the day.
In the following years my career became more internationally and audience measurement focused, but it seemed that wherever we were in the world TouchPoints would crop up in the conversation and, if I admitted that I knew something about it, I’d be grilled by eager researchers.
In particular it’s the two-stage approach that caught the imagination of the industry here and overseas.
The hub survey, in its own right, provides a treasure trove of information on the context of how, when and why people consume media. However, there had been cross-media surveys before TouchPoints.
The extra step, the breakthrough, was to then use the hub survey to provide the hooks to tie the industry currencies together. Fusions had been done before between different surveys, but TouchPoints provides both a guide for the fusion hooks and a source to check back against afterwards to evaluate how well the fusion has worked.
So the TouchPoints approach went global – in some cases with the IPA’s help and in others, well let’s just say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
However, putting research techniques to one side and looking at the bigger picture, why has TouchPoints proven such an enduring success? Because the timing was right:
Firstly, TouchPoints echoes a growing realisation that looking at media planning within silos is just so last century. It used to be the case that each of the media was largely defined, named and constrained by the physical way in which it was delivered – a TV, a radio, a newspaper.
However digital allows those media to transcend their origins and move across platforms. So where we arrive at is a media ecosystem that has three distinct layers: content, platforms and devices. TouchPoints understood this from the start.
Secondly, TouchPoints also reflects the growing realisation that, to truly understand media, we need to adopt a consumer-centric approach.
That was the origin of the name: the idea that different media touch people at different points during the day and we need to understand how those different screens work together to build coverage – from the smart phone in your pocket to a digital outdoor display at Victoria station.
It is surprising how many meetings I have been in during which a period of head scratching has been resolved by someone piping up with, "I wonder if we could use TouchPoints to help with this".
Above all the TouchPoints approach acknowledges that the future of media planning lies in mapping media onto consumers, as opposed to fitting consumers into media silos. That is why it has proven such an enduring success.
However, to remain relevant it will need to continue to innovate: smart phones have replaced PDAs and this wave is the first to incorporate passive data.
As I wrote in my ‘Big Opportunity’ report for the IPA last year, hybrid approaches combining survey-based research with Big Data are very much the future.
TouchPoints is well placed to be a means for tying together not just industry currencies but surveys with server data and customer databases – for example the recent fusion with Facebook .
So Touchpoints may have started in an era of Blackberries, PDAs, Friends Reunited and Second Life (is it strange to have nostalgia for only 8 years ago?) but it’s now well positioned to endure in a world of iPads, Twitter and Tumblr.
Richard Marks is Director at Research The Media Ltd. Follow him @RichardMlive
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Last updated 27/03/2014