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Is Market Research Ready For Data Diversity?

As Market Researchers, we will need to show we can adapt, and add value in different ways. As long as we can do that, I believe we will continue to flourish.


By Edward Appleton

I had two interesting Research experiences over the last 7 days, both of which brought home to me how extremely varied and complex the world of Research is likely to become in future, and that the areas where Researchers can add value may well shift significantly.

Both occasions were with myself as participant – always interesting.

My first MR experience: I came across what to me was a totally new form of data gathering (part Research, part user profiling) by the spirits brand Hendricks Gin. It was an extremely interesting take on the “survey”, all the questions were put not just in a very playful way – gamified, if you like – they were totally in the spirit of the brand (excuse the pun).  Take a look yourself:

I found it highly entertaining – and wonderfully short. Branding Market Research in this way is to me a step-change – and I bet it catches on. Imagine your brand’s identity infusing a survey process –  how much more fun would that give particularly loyal brand respondents?

The second example was a mobile survey I took in a restaurant in central Munich two nights ago. The set up was simple – every table had a little stand-up card with the word “Satisfied?” and a QR code, inviting guests to give feedback on their smart phone. I gladly participated, the survey took less than 5 minutes, it was very simply structured, clearly designed –  I enjoyed the process to the extent that I turned off my critical MR mindset, not paying attention to how well the satisfaction rating scales were done. I felt I was truly sharing something rather than being asked for opinions I didn’t really have.

The two experiences are to me good examples of what’s going on in our world: Market Research is spreading fast, more and more Companies are engaging in Customer feedback directly, very possibly without the help of a professional Market Research company. Technology is helping them get feedback cheaply, fast and with a degree of contextualisation (the mobile survey) that wouldn’t have been possible a few years ago.

Where does that leave the clearly delineated world of “Market Research”?

The world in which we add value currently is changing quickly – we need to consider where we can profitably bring our MR skillsets to bear in future. Here’s my take:

1. Data Interpretation will increasingly be the area for Value Add Services.

Companies will be inundated with data in future about their customers – their thoughts, behaviours, reactions, very often organic data that people are freely volunteering. Making sense of that data will be of high importance – filtering for relevance, recognising patterns, identifying limitations, building a story. The more time and energy we spend on interpretation, the better. We need to spend time and effort communicating the importance not just gathering data but using MR professionals to interpret it.

2. We need to Become Synthesis Experts

One data source will seldom be enough to understand a problem; each data source has its own inbuilt strengths and weaknesses. We need to look at multiple data streams – sales data, mobile inputs, social media inputs, survey inputs – identifying potential contradictions, building a picture of a situation that offers the best fit overall. I think this is our largest single challenge right now – accessing the data, bringing it into a manageable form, finding the time to synthesize.

3. We need to Bring  traditional Methodological Expertise to bear on New Data Sets .

Our MR skills in say statistics, significance testing, or the understanding of potential cognitive biases need to be brought to bear on new data sources. Take the above example from the Restaurant: it’s likely that direct feedback to a Company as on the mobile survey will have a bias to the positive, whereas comments coming from say Foursquare are likely to be more honest. Business people probably wouldn’t necessarily pick up on this, but it’s important. We should unstintingly stress our core strengths, but in a practical rather than theoretical context.

4. We need to put ourselves more in Decision Makers’ Shoes

To be powerful, our insights need to clearly impact on a business decision. To continue on the Restaurant scenario, likely decisions to be taken could be on a range of satisfaction drivers, including menu choice, quality of food, quality of service, lighting, music… name a few. Decision makers will need to look not just at the challenge from a Customer perspective, they’ll need to factor in a number of other business variables – the cost and ease of implementation, timing considerations, planning permission, or even the ease of recruiting if you decide you need a new or additional Chef. By getting familiar with the sort of factors that Decision Makers live with, we can become more valuable business partners.

5. We need to become relaxed about Data Diversity, while remaining strict on Data Quality.

The future of Research is likely to characterized by a whole myriad of data sources and streams – social, mobile, qual., quant., behavioral, netnographical (if that word exists) sales data….Likely everyone running a business will be doing some kind of research in their own way because they can do so cheaply and quickly. We need to accept that taking an orthodox approach to this – having issues on sampling representativeness, concerns on scaling for example – are fine, but should only really count as to how they impact a business decision.

One of the tasks in front of us is to ensure that new audiences – start-ups or Small Businesses, for example – both know and value Market Research’s full capabilities, that they don’t simply share the oft-cited negative prejudices about us.

The future of MR is going to be a lot different from the past, probably a lot more fun for participants, with a lot less hard-and-fast rules. Orthodoxies will be constantly challenged, innovation will abound. Importantly, I think the thirst for Customer Insight will increase. As Market Researchers, we will need to show we can adapt, and add value in different ways. As long as we can do that, I believe we will continue to flourish.

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8 responses to “Is Market Research Ready For Data Diversity?

  1. Terrific post. The question I keep coming back to is How? Faced with the diversity of data (and the amount of it) I am looking for a methodology which allows me to weight diverse sources relative to each other, and the ensure that the data sets within each are also weighted and representative when there may be a need to resample (or even oversample) the individual data streams. Qualitative researchers call this balancing bricolage (if you’re worried you won’t be taken seriously – just say it in French) but this is too reliant on judgement and intuition. I would be interested to find how one could use best fit methods to generate a variety of scenarios on the data which up and downweights different sources – and the data in each stream. Twenty years ago I was building crude models using Solver in Excel to spit out media schedules based on past response. What I am looking for is a new Solver which can handle quant survey data, behavioural data AND the qualitative tagged multimedia objects. Suggestions on a postcard please – for me this is the big one.

  2. Ed, great piece and oh so true! However, reading in between the lines of what you say, I think your own perspective reflects on being part of the problem. To me, much of MR and its attitudes is reflected through the lens of the survey instrument. Other data here could be unstructured text like social media brand conversations. Learning and insights comes through knowledge of language and linguistics. I really don’t think most in MR are thinking that or even ready for that. Maybe they are too afraid of what it means? I do, however, think this is a big portal into the future as far as insights are concerned.

  3. My recent book, The Insights Advantage, discusses in detail how to do synthesis. I agree with Michael that we need to look at all data sources. There is trendeous information online, not just social media, there are many internal data sources, complaints, phone records, technical issue data, and numerous secondary & industry reports. All these can help built more complete, “holistic” insights. I also would add that advanced analytical skills will become increasingly important in the effort the increased amount and diversity of data.

  4. Ed, you have hit the ball out of the park again! As to how to weight various diverse data sources, I think this is a judgment call based on knowledge of the importance of the business issue. Before he blew his own trumpet, I was going to suggest that people read Marco’s book – he has a great chapter on soft skills, which judgment surely is!

  5. wow, what an array of comments from heavy-weight MR folk! – Thanks, first to all of you for that.

    @john – guess the holy grail is an end-to-end consumer toughpoint model, pulling in all different data sources and types. Don’t know of one yet – I just try and pull in as many pieces of data into a reading as possible, and weight according to business judgement. Doesn’t sound scientific because it isn’t 😉

    @michael – interesting point on language and linguistics. Bring on Bakhtin and Foucault, I say….but is there an audience I wonder? My POV is undoubtedly biased from my heritage – which is indeed survey-biased, but hopefully not so prone to confirmation bias that I won’t embrace easy-to-use and powerful Software that sorts out Insights from Social Listening/ unstructured data. And frankly I can’t really see myself as a Data Scientist.

    @marco – time for me to check out your book, I think, especially now it has 3rd party endorsement through Mr. Chadwick…;)

    @Simon – thanks for your kind words and joining the conversation, look forward to continuing it!

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