POV: Will Big Data Disrupt Marketing Research?

BigData-wordcloud-2There’s been an ongoing popular debate among insights professionals regarding the utilization of behavioral data (BIG DATA) as a surrogate for or even a disruptor of traditional market research. The disruption argument gets the headlines, but it strikes me that the more thoughtful discussion should be about how the two complement each other.

Behavioral data or ‘big data’ has become more popular as it becomes more personal and more accessible. With easier collection and cultivation of transactional data and online conversations, organizations are able to drill down and examine what the customer is looking for and their buying habits. Hotels, retail stores, restaurants, golf facilities and sports properties can use this data to surface current trends, and recommend specific products to the consumer. Those in favor of big data believe that if we can track what the consumer spends, what they do and where they go, that this is superior to a survey or interview, which relies on recollection.

Yet behavioral data or big data does have its downsides. Quite obvious from the name, big data has extremely large data sets that have to be analyzed to reveal trends and patterns that reflect the consumer’s behaviors. Big data can be so large and complex that it can become difficult to store, analyze, and transfer using traditional database and software techniques. It is also limited to those customers that readily provide access to personal information that can be linked to their transactions or other behaviors. One can also recognize that the big data approach is limited in that it gets at the what, but not necessarily the how and why.  It’s also somewhat self-selecting, rather than rigorously and representatively sampled, as good traditional market research can be.

Traditional marketing research focuses on identifying factors that influences the buying decisions of consumers. Data is collected through focus groups, surveys, one on one interviews, shop alongs, and intercept surveys. Through this, companies are able to find out the consumers’ likes and dislikes. By conducting focus groups, researchers are able to get a better understanding of the consumer and their emotional reactions. Moderators are also able to intervene, challenge the consumer, and ask any additional questions that they may have.

So which one is better?

Our school of thought is that the ultimate holy grail is to be able to meld and model behavioral data (BIG DATA) with attitudinal data (Traditional MR) thus enabling both modalities to work in concert to provide a more robust customer segmentation as well as better targeted and customized marketing communications.  SLRG believes that both behavioral data and attitudinal data can work in concert to provide insights never before possible. Currently, SLRG uses behavioral data in conjunction with traditional MR for several clients. The casino and resort industries, as well as various sports teams/properties are perfect examples of verticals that can integrate both big data and traditional MR.

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