Without a doubt the research industry is struggling to evolve at the pace of technology innovation as it relates to data and emerging data sources. We don’t have a “big data problem”, we have a distinct gap between our traditional methods and a massive influx of new technologies and data streams. Traditionally we’ve focused on primary data collection, giving little thought to ancillary sources of data- in large part because they simply didn’t exist. Even as recently as 5 years ago, there was limited access to many of the consumer behaviors that can easily be tracked today via digital activity (online, mobile wearables, IoT, etc).
Never before have we seen such an influx of technology driven solutions enter the research space. From text analytics to image recognition software, social media and geo-location data providers, many of the companies to watch (like SocialGlimpz, KnowledgeHound and MetricWire) are being driven by entrepreneurs with limited formal research training. This in fact may be helping, rather than hindering, their success. Case in point, Nick Drewe. Nick keynoted at both the AMSRS annual conference in 2013 and at CASRO Tech in 2014 where he talked about his highly accurate prediction of Australia’s Hottest 100 by using big data from Facebook Shares, Twitter Tweets, Pintrest Pins, Tumblr Posts and Google + Plus’ to predict 92 songs from Triple J’s annual music countdown. Eight of which were exactly correct in their order (including songs 3, 2 & 1!). The data Nick was able to extract from social media and a bit of data modeling, with no formal research training, should serve as a wakeup call to the industry. There is a new breed of researcher afoot who is unencumbered by traditional methods and, in many cases, can vastly improve on the traditional research we’re delivering to our clients, often using simple open source data.
Pravin Shekar gave a brilliant presentation a few years ago on “jugaad”, the Hindi-Urdu word which means the utilization of creativity to make existing things work or to create new things with meager resources (think “hacking” in US terms). Companies in India are adopting jugaad as a practice to reduce R&D costs and maximize resources. What Nick Drewe did to game the Hottest 100 is a perfect example of jugaad in the Western world, and is exactly what we need to be embracing as an industry. Often I hear my fellow researchers criticizing new techniques and technologies – focusing on what they DON’T do rather than what they can ultimately bring to the data party. Kudos to Kantar and Nielsen who are setting the tone this year for what I believe is the future of the industry – collaboration and strategic “acqui-hiring” of technology driven data providers (Kantar, by investing in Zappistore and Nielsen with their acquisition of Affinova). These strategies will be key to the evolution of larger research agencies. Smaller, more nimble firms, that aren’t afraid to deviate from the norm also have a real opportunity to offer marketers hybrid research strategies utilizing techniques that integrate cross-platform primary research with alternative technology and data providers.
Our strength as researchers lies in our innate curiosity and our commitment to delivering insights and, ultimately, a data driven story telling experience – regardless of the data source. Our challenge is determining which “disruptive” new technologies and solutions can provide more actionable research insights. It’s not the origin of data that matters, it what we’re able to do with it.
Kristin Luck is President at Decipher