September 24, 2015

Is big data a big deal for market research?

Big data has become somewhat of a buzzword in research circles of late. As ‘the next big thing’ it has been heralded as the end to market research, with traditional market research being seen by some as outdated, unwilling to change, and irrelevant to client needs. Big data can be used to measure traffic on the London underground, gather search terms from around the world, and measure consumer engagement with TV adverts. Its obvious big data is a seriously impressive tool when used in the right environment. Despite this, traditional market research remains vital to finding out what consumers really want, and will therefore remain the bread and butter of market research. Here’s why:

Qualitative methods provide depth and detail

Although big data can tell you who is buying your product, if you want to know how your product can be improved, a focus group should be your go to. Qualitative methodologies such as in depth interviews, workshops or focus groups allow you to spend time digging deep to find out what consumers want from their products. Qual allows use of language generation exercises to find out what consumers really want to hear, and how they want to hear it – and results can be surprising; a change in punctuation or subtle change in phraseology can mean the difference between indifferent and inspired.  Qual methodologies allow consumers to think in detail about what they want a product to say – something that isn’t likely to happen in the fast-paced world of big data.

Big data lacks the human touch

If you’re looking to understand more sensitive topics, such as how consumers feel about extreme foot odour or their feminine hygiene products, big data simply won’t cut it. The only way to understand consumers on a personal level is to become more personal with them. In home video diaries and in depth interviews emotionally engage consumers, allowing more sensitive topics to be discussed, something that simply isn’t possible with big data. There is a huge gulf between what people say they think and how they say they feel on social media…and how they actually think and feel away from the pressure of their peers.


Know what they do, not what they say

Big data, such as that downloaded from Twitter, can tell you what consumers say they do. This doesn’t always match up with what consumers actually do – and that’s where traditional market research comes in. Consumers will tell you that a product is ‘great’ and ‘easy to use’ whilst using a screw driver to prise open the packaging, only narrowly avoiding a cut finger. It is only by using ethnography tools, such as our Impact App, that it is possible to see the actuality of the consumer experience. The Impact App allows you to see consumers using products in their own home. This level of detail lets you to answer questions such as: Where do they use a product? Is it easy to open? Quick to use? It’s only by seeing what consumers do that you can know how they really use a product.

Sample size

When recruiting for a study, you may have a very specific idea of who you want to speak to, crucial when drawing in new users to a brand, category or product, or simply when preventing alienation of a current user group. Product development relies on making the right changes for the right people. Big data can leave it hard to find your target demographic in the noise of all users – optimisation for the masses can be less successful than specific, targeted products.

There are numerous advantages to traditional research methodologies, which, together with big data, broaden and strengthen market research. Through combined use of these methods insight can be gained into what consumers really think and feel.

To find out more about our Qual methods, contact us.

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