Big Data Combo!

October 7, 2013


At ESOMAR there was a lot of dialogue about the changing nature of information available to companies. Media companies for example, or any web-based company (for that matter), have quite literally a digital trail of how people are using their site and how they are interacting. It doesn’t take long for someone to work out that they can do a whole lot with that information. AOL, Viacom, Microsoft and Intel are all leading the charge in this respect.

Which led some people to ask: “What is knowing ‘why’ going to tell you anyway?”

It is an interesting challenge for a marketer, a confronting one for a researcher. If you know the ‘who, what, how, when, who with and ‘how much’ about the behaviour, right down to the minute, how is knowing the ‘why’ going to change your decision making?

This stream of thinking raised many eyebrows in the room. It definitely felt like some could hear the beating of the ‘tech geek’ drums coming up over the hill.  Is this necessarily a bad thing?

An evolving realm of information to draw on:

Without a doubt, what we are seeing today is the beginning of a new ‘ecosystem’ of information that companies can take advantage of. 

Discussion quickly turned to; ‘well what are you going to do with this information? Are you just creating more information to handle than you can cope with? How will you change you business practices?”

Once you have launched a car onto the market, a new yoghurt or something else made of atoms, you cannot just replace it or change it that quickly. 

Even if you have made a $5 million in media spend (the Americans used an example of a $100 million media buy!!!), it is not that easy just to stop that in its tracks. What will you do? Change the advertisement if you get some information telling you something new?

All in all, the debate was fascinating. What did become clear, however, was the power of when qualitative and Behavioural Big Data came together. In essence, hybrid methods would be the way forward. Viacom for example, were able to understand the viewing habits and interest set of potential consumers in Europe, and match their preferences with those in the US.

In a broad-based study across Europe, they combined their web-based information, quantitative research and ethnography, and the outcomes have had far reaching impact. The Big Data revealed the behaviours and ‘areas of interest’ of the target group. The qualitative & quantitative helped to understand how Viacom could best connect with the target group. 

They have used the information across many different areas of the business, all the way into programming decisions. Interestingly, it helped to inform the ‘globalisation’ of their content, like how Jersey Shore was used to develop Geordie Shore and other similar local adaptations. The next installment will be a Polish version.

You do not just have to be a web-based company to take advantage of the bread crumbs being left all over the digital world. We saw examples of fashion brands exploring the lives of their customer base online, chip companies understanding their customers in new ways.

This new information does appear to be more powerful if you own your own data. However when different methods are put together, we think this is when it the information can be truly revealing. Real time behavioural information, matched with, and used to inform conceptual work, it is a match made in digital heaven!

The role of the researcher:

New technologies and new sources of information are all impacting on the role of the researcher. It demands that researchers are brilliant at joining the dots. Interpretive skills become even more important, not less, as someone will have to decide what to use, and what not to.

In a way, good researchers have always done this. If we explored valued relationships between suppliers and clients, the people who have been able to help the client see through the woods have always been the leaders.

The manner in which this is achieved will be the big change. The new researcher will need to be able to handle more than words and feelings, and more than numbers. In many ways, the blur between the old battle lines of qualitative and quantitative will diminish. If you want to be valuable, you have to be multi-dimensional.

A brave new world

Just as the rest of society grapples with change and flux, both in their personal lives and in their working lives, so will we. These times of change are enthusing, as they lead to innovation and create opportunity.

One thing is for sure, that as researchers, our key skill of being able to bring information together will remain. The trick will be about managing and interpreting the information to be a valuable business partner.

The really exciting part from our side of the fence is that we can now call on new types of information, and that by creating hybrid methods, combining Behavioural Big Data with conceptual qualitative, our influence can be even more powerful.