A New Frontier for MR – Big Data

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Should We Be Worried?

Imagine there is a President of the Market Research Industry addressing us today.  I believe our leader would open with declarations mirroring those of John F. Kennedy:

“We stand today on the edge of a New Frontier – the frontier of “Big Data”, the frontier of unknown opportunities and threats, the frontier of undiscovered insights and untapped nuances …”

Doubt we’ve arrived at the “New Frontier of Big Data”?  Take these realities into consideration:

  • 90% of the data that exists today was created in the last two years (IBM)
  • Data is growing at 50% a year, more than doubling every two years  (IDC, Technology Research Firm)
  • Data has been declared a new class of economic asset, like currency or gold (World Economic Forum, Jan 2012)
  • 67% of respondents in a 2012 Informatica study see Big Data as an opportunity for their organization.
  • “Big Data” is anticipated to comprise/transform 50% of current marketing research revenue  (ESOMAR Global Market Research report 2010)

Market research is in a state of transition.  Emerging technologies from neuroscience methods to mobile applications to prediction markets are redefining the way we perform and utilize research.  The one commonality across all these technologies is their interaction with data – which acts as both their fuel and byproduct.  As a result, these technologies are changing the way information is delivered to businesses and individuals alike.  This is what we call the “Big Data” transformation and is best illustrated in three aspects:  Volume, Velocity, and Variety:

The Volume of information:  Massive amounts of data are generated each day – nearly 2.5 quintillion bytes

The Variety of data:  Big data includes structured data as well as unstructured data such as text, sensor data, audio, video, social media, GPS locator data, etc.

The Velocity of data:  The speed at which data is accessed and analyzed doubles every 2 years

But what does this “New Data Frontier” mean to researchers and those that rely on research to make decisions?  Big Data promises to allow for better and faster decision making at every level of every organization (retailers, manufacturers, service providers, and even governments), yet marketers and decision makers are still in the early stages of harnessing Big Data. One thing is for certain – the Big Data behemoth is now a major component of the MR industry and the tensions created by its entrance are likely to be disruptive.

The recent Brite-NYAMA Marketing Measurement in Transition study revealed that 91% of senior corporate marketers believe successful brands use customer data to drive marketing decisions.  The problem therein lies that two in five marketers (39%) admit they cannot turn their data into actionable insight while 36% report that they have “lots of consumer data,” but “don’t know what to do with it”.

These findings embody both the challenge and opportunity that Big Data poses to the MR industry.  The threat to market research is that people will feel that having enough data will remove the need for market research all together.  The opportunity is that market researchers can focus on putting the “Why?” into the story they tell, and thereby make the “What?” that Big Data can offer more valuable.

Today traditional market research is still the most straightforward and easy choice for gathering insights from data.  Industry experts declare Big Data is not the feared death sentence to traditional market research, but the industry may shrink in size and be enlisted in the Big Data camp. Full service research firms, like Infosurv, are still driven by the design and analysis anchor points of the marketing research process.  Big data won’t replace the more complex surveys or traditional projects anytime soon, but it will ultimately force researchers to focus on adding real value to our projects with our brains and intuition, and not our methods.

Big Data requires a fundamental change in the way we collect and develop insights from data.  To effectively leverage Big Data, market researchers need to understand its power and become comfortable with the tools and techniques of Big Data.

Most importantly market researchers need to find ways to integrate data from different sources (unstructured data from social media, mobile devices, text analytics, etc.) as a part of their strategic insight delivery.  Sharing diverse data across organizations and industries will significantly impact the ROI we see from our research as well as the level of insight we’re able to provide.

Utilizing this shared data appropriately will allow decision makers to effectively segment, target and personalize their communication and product/service offerings to consumers and employees alike.  In fact, research shows that organizations adopting “data driven decision making” achieved productivity gains that were 5%-6% higher than other factors could explain.

“The New Frontier is here whether we seek it or not.”  It’s up to us as researchers and decision makers to meet these new challenges and opportunities with ingenuity, tenacity, and adaptability, through which we’ll see an altered yet superior market research industry.