In late January, I had the opportunity to attend the Quirk’s event in Orange County, CA and listen to presentations about new methodologies and trends in market research. Despite a plethora of topics ranging from CX studies, loyalty measurements, and the latest and greatest developments in AI-based research, one area rose to the top: Big Data. While this may seem like another business buzzword or far-off technology to the 43%* of market researchers who consider themselves “late adopters of new methodologies,” the fact is that the Big Data industry is already four times larger than the Market Research industry. Its presence and impact on the Market Research industry can no longer be swept under the rug.

Let’s start off by looking at some of the key selling points for using Big Data over Market Research:

Big Data Graphic

  1. Big Data eliminates the subjectivity and self-reported data points generated by traditional research methodology Since it is derived from actual behavior (purchase data, internet searches, etc.), it eliminates the uncertainty generated by questionnaires that rely on stated behavior, especially regarding topics that are considered sensitive or embarrassing.
  2. Big Data is effectively instantaneous This point really speaks for itself. Projects that utilize it effectively require zero field time, reducing costs and allowing clients to reach decisions more quickly.
  3. Big Data doesn’t have to rely on representative sampling As the name suggests, big data is BIG. Ideally, a data set will consist of all behaviors, demographics, and psychographics of a population. This is a big selling point, especially for non-research savvy clients.

So, what does that mean for researchers like myself in the not-so-distant future? Will Market Research become a part of the growing number of industries replaced by automation? Let’s look at the facts as they stand today:

  1. Privacy issues At the risk of stepping into Orwellian big-brother territory, it’s impossible to have this debate without examining the ramifications induced by constant tracking of biometrics, purchase behavior, and Google searches. European Regulations are already set to take place on May 25th, 2018 that allow citizens to ask companies to remove certain online information about them. This has the potential to be a major roadblock moving forward regarding the ultimate ceiling that Big Data can achieve.
  2. Big Data can tell us what happened, and even predict future events with great accuracy. However, it does not have the ability to explain why something has happened. This is a big one, and the point that I believe is the key to the long-term vitality of the Market Research Industry. Understanding the why behind anything is crucial to making better business decisions and avoiding the same mistakes over and over. Whether it be extensive qualitative studies or short mobile surveys, the methodologies and techniques used by Market Researchers are far more effective when it comes to understanding the “why” behind customer behavior.

Ultimately, it seems unlikely that Big Data will put research out of business. Rather, Big Data and Market Research will coexist in a symbiotic relationship. The advantages of utilizing Big Data to understand what has happened and predict future events, combined with the power of Market Research to understand why those events have occurred or will occur, is the future of the industry. The utilization of both in conjunction has the ability to provide decision makers with more actionable, insightful data points than either industry can provide on its own.

*According to 2017 Quirks Corporate Researchers Report

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