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The Kid in the Corner

[Big Ideas Series] Traditional market research can become unstuck by working with new players to connect the dots in a broader data ecosystem.

Editor’s Note: This post is part of our Big Ideas series, a column highlighting the innovative thinking and thought leadership at IIeX events around the world. Sam Curtis will be speaking at IIeX Europe (February 19-20 in Amsterdam). If you liked this article, you’ll LOVE IIeX EU. Click here to learn more.

Market research was born into a world that was data poor. Where marketers’ most fundamental needs could be answered by speaking to people. Market research was the big kid and it had the playground to itself.

The playground is now full of big kids, fuelled by data generated from consumers’ lives that are fragmented and complex, and those kids are playing together. Like connecting ad exposure data to social and web data to understand the impact of advertising on word of mouth. Or getting search data around a new launch, and adding data from social networks and feedback from sales reps in the field to get a jump on slow sales data. And increasingly, merging loyalty card data to credit card data to get share of wallet, and location data to understand share of store visits.

The way marketers will get value from the data playground is getting the kids to play together. This is where many of our traditional survey-based approaches come unstuck.

1. Small data: Most market research data is far too small to connect to other data sources at an individual level. When you have sample sizes of a few hundred people you can only really connect them to data sources that cover entire populations (Twitter covers only 25% of the US population for example). When you try to enrich your survey segments with other data sources there simply is not enough of an overlap to make it work.

2. Panel fragmentation and consent: An additional problem is the increasing tendency to sub-contract other panels to boost samples. To connect data you need a single ID system and a common identifier between data sets to connect them. While your primary panels may agree to connect your data with another data set, the sub-contractors may not.

Without fundamental change, market research will become the old kid in the corner, watching the other kids play without it. So what can the old kid do?

I am looking forward to debating the many implications of this in Amsterdam, but our three broad recommendations for the industry would be:

  1. Accept that traditional approaches, from brand tracking to segmentation, are on the precipice. Stop investing in approaches that cannot play with the other kids, and work out how you can add value in a broader data ecosystem.
  2. Move away from using panels for small ad hoc surveys and start doing much larger syndicated studies. Panels themselves are still sizable data assets.
  3. Finally, champion the world of Small Data. Within the mass of data available, there are stories that are hidden, tensions that are below the surface and contradictions that make total sense.

In short, the old kid needs a make-over, by going further, digging deeper and working harder to understand people. Do this and we may still have our place in the playground.

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