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The big data impact on market research

Big data words on a road sign
in Market Research

Big data has, in a relatively short space of time, transformed or challenged the very fundamentals of every sector. As McKinsey and Company expressed in its 2011 report, Big Data: The Next Frontier for Innovation, Competition and Productivity, whatever sentiment you may presently possess regarding this technology, it represents the future.

It is not so much about the size of big data – which is, in terms of volume, velocity and variety, ever-expanding – that makes it a game changer. It is the value that is gained from it that sets it apart and makes it a real asset. Tap into this effectively and you are going to gain something unique – it is that differentiator that gives you the edge.

In the arena of market research, where previously big data has been tentatively and cautiously embraced, it is beginning to be seen as a vital part of any project. More and more, the sector is gaining confidence in its usefulness and, accordingly, is increasingly no longer fearful that it poses a direct challenge.

William C. Pink, a senior partner at creative analytics at Millward Brown, explained this well when he remarked in an opinion piece that big data is in fact “liberating” market research and enabling it to be more compelling than ever before. In this piece we look at how.

What organisations demand today

In a highly competitive age, where organisations are still cautious about the volatility of working in a globalised world – the fallout from the financial crash of 2008 still feels rather immediate – there is an ever-greater need to do more with less, do it quickly and do it better than everyone else. The answer to this lies in technology.

This was captured perfectly in EY’s 2014 paper, Big Data: Changing the Way Businesses Compete and Operate. It stated that “business has always wanted to derive insights from information in order to make better, smarter, real-time, fact-based decisions: it is this demand for depth of knowledge that has fuelled the growth of big data tools and platforms.”

Invaluable insight

The reference to insight is crucial. With huge demands comes a need for all constituents of an organisation – internal and external – to ensure every action delivers a positive, relevant and useful result most, if not all, of the time.

In market research, the goal for most agencies is to capture the true “voice of the customer”. This means accurately identifying the particular wants and needs of a target individual to a brief outlined by a client, which traditional methods may overlook.

“Let’s not forget what insight is,” Christian Krugel, vice president of consumer analytics and research with AOL, was quoted by ESOMAR as saying in its 2014 report, Global Market Research.

“The definition we use around here is this: an insight is the unexpected revelation of the true nature of something. Big data solutions can be really great at that, as can conventional market research.”

However, there are limitations to this that market researchers are advised to be aware of, namely the quality of the source material itself. If this is compromised, then all understanding of the voice of a customer is going to be based on erroneous data. And, the bigger the project, the greater the risk.

Consider international market research by way of example. Researchers will assess multiple datasets from numerous markets and attempt to derive a cohesive narrative from all of these points.

If something is misunderstood or captured incorrectly in this complex ecosystem, it can damage the integrity of the information that is being used to make informed decisions. As such, big data loses its value. The solution to this specific problem is effective translation, which we discussed in depth in a recent blog.

Superb speed

A lot of errors can also emerge from unnecessarily rushing things, and while this would suggest that a more laboured, unhurried approach is the best solution, businesses are expectant of quick turnarounds when it comes to projects.

If a market research company is unable to deliver speedy results, then chances are they’ll look elsewhere. As IBM noted in its 2014 study, Analytics: The Speed Advantage, “velocity is now the value driver for big data”.

The tech behind this enables agencies to better respond to that demand in a manner that would otherwise be difficult through traditional methods and strategies That said, this is by no means impossible (a hybrid approach, as described by Mr Kugel, is recommended for generating an exhaustive level of detail).

Utilising sophisticated software, researchers can amalgamate unstructured datasets from a myriad of sources and languages, analyse this information and swiftly come up with a comprehensive answer. In turn, organisations can then act on this almost immediately, allowing them to be proactive and reactive to the constantly changing landscape of business.

“Analytics provide the fuel for an organisation to make better decisions faster. In the realm of big data, the ‘winners’ are those that manage the data deluge and turn it into value-generating insights ahead of the competition,” IBM said in its report.

“These organisations are dedicated to the speed advantage, a competitive strategy that enables the rapid acquisition and analysis of data to create agile, precise moves in the marketplace.”

Big data, big future

No-one doubts that the global market research sector is in robust health, but if it is to maintain growth and, in the words of Finn Raben, director general of ESOMAR, elevate the “value of the profession”, more innovation is needed.

As this article has demonstrated, part of that transformation is rooted in big data and unquestionably, as the century progresses and the world becomes increasingly digitised, its relevance to any given organisation in any given sector will be absolute.

“What the growing prevalence of data underlines is the need for new ways of drawing useful insights from ever-greater and more varied sources of information,” ESOMAR elucidated in its 2014 study.

“In many ways, making prescient connections and drawing useful conclusions has always been the role of market researchers. Yet this new era of research does require new technologies and new ways of approaching problems.”

Big data offers the answers.

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