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Why Behavioural Data Is a Key Part Of The Future

The most progressive consumer insights professionals will find ways to blend and combine survey and behavioural data sets to find the growth levers that will propel their business forward.


By Eli Portnoy

The best companies in the world are investing heavily in their consumer insights team. Industry leaders have come to realize that great market research helps companies make better and more strategic decisions on everything from product strategy, to pricing, to marketing and everything in between. With bigger teams and more influence, market research professionals are getting more sophisticated in how they apply data. However for all the advancements the industry has made, one area that has lagged behind is how the data is collected.

The Current State Of Affairs

Market research professionals heavily rely on surveys. In fact, ESOMAR estimates that 80% of global research budgets are spent on  surveys. While surveys have benefited from a dramatic move towards online, and now a slow crawl towards mobile, the reality is that surveys have not changed in dozens of years. Market Research data is still fundamentally about asking consumers questions and hoping they remember and provide good answers.

While surveys are terrific way to collect data, they do have some limitations. Specifically, they are expensive to administer leading to a fairly small number of responses. They are prone to people forgetting or including bias in their responses. And finally, they take a long time to collect, process, and analyze. In a world where new data sources are sprouting daily, shouldn’t we expect more?

A New Source Of Data

We live in a world where almost every interaction we have can create a little digital data crumb. Not only is this true in online web browsing, but even our offline activity can be recorded thanks to the massive proliferation of smartphones and the large number of sensors packed into each of these. Imagine a market research world where instead of asking someone when they had last been to the gym, you could ask them to passively share their location data from their phone and see every time they went to the gym.

This passively collected information is a new type of behavioural data and it is going to play a very large role in the future of market research.

The Benefits of Behavioural Data

The first benefit of real-world behavioural data is that it does not rely on human memory or the inevitable bias. Instead, this data essentially allows a market researcher to observe how, when, and what panel participants do, providing significantly richer, more complete, and more accurate data.

A second major benefit is that because it is much easier for panelists to install an app and share data than it is to painstakingly answer 80 questions, it is possible to build massively larger panels of behavioural data. Instead of being limited by studies that have thousands or tens of thousands of respondents, a market researcher can work with data from literally millions of people. This allows for greater insights, deeper cutting of the data, and more granularity.

Finally, behavioural data can be collected in real-time, and thanks to advances in cloud computing, can also be processed programmatically. This allows researchers to analyze data in hours, rather than the weeks, if not months it would have taken to collect, process, and analyze surveys. In a fast changing world, the speed of insights can be the difference between growth and decline, and with behavioral panels researchers can have it nearly instantly.

The Ultimate Solution

The most progressive consumer insights professionals will find ways to blend and combine survey and behavioural data sets to find the growth levers that will propel their business forward. The future of market research has never been brighter and the data available to consumer insights professionals is about to expand from purely survey driven, to data sets that combine behavioral and observed data. This is a terrific opportunity that will enable companies to generate richer, deeper, and more actionable insights than were ever possible before.

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2 responses to “Why Behavioural Data Is a Key Part Of The Future

  1. Eli, I do not think anyone would argue with the hypothesis here that is we could get good behavioural data that would be a major tool for insights and targeting. The problem seems to be that there is a growing sense of distrust from the primary data sources like Facebook. When ad revenues are dependent on the data provided by the publisher there is always room for data manipulation.

    We discovered recently that Facebook metrics removed anyone from the base of viewers who did not watch an ad for 3 seconds. So basically this removed a huge percentage of non-viewers from their claimed seen data. There is clearly something wrong with data providers when P&G pulls the plug on targeted communications and Mondelez queries 85% of their ad placements.

    The only clean data is probably internal data generated from search, inquiry and shopping data and possibly Google data (but honestly who can you trust?) at this point in the Internet’s history.

  2. I’ve been an advocate of analyzing behavioral data and integrating it with surveys and other data sources since the earliest days of my career in the 1980s. Along the way my advocacy has frequently been met with puzzled looks and ill-disguised resistance, and it’s very gratifying that the tide is now turning at last.

    We now have much more data and many more ways to analyze it and analyze it more quickly than ever. Some legitimate issues with data quality and privacy remain and should not be swept under the rug, but I suspect they will be sorted out, for the most part.

    When I was a “kid” clients fretted about missing the weekly telebus, but surveys can now be turned around in a matter of hours, through reporting. Detailed drill downs require more time but 80-90% of this is consumed by internal discussions regarding questionnaire content (and sometimes wording and respondent screening).

    Nice article and a welcome change form the more common claim that behavioral data will replace traditional MR, which it cannot.

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Eli Portnoy

Eli Portnoy

Co Founder & Chief Executive Officer, Sense360