Putting Together Pieces of Data
I loved putting together jigsaw puzzles as a child, searching for pieces that fit together. The greatest satisfaction emerged from the last piece, which always used to be a centre piece in the puzzle. When all the pieces got together, it would be my masterpiece. I guess this would have been a favorite game for many other children who, like me, grew up to become market researchers!
We encounter many occasions where the data before us fails to explain the ‘complete story’. We scratch our heads and sometimes bang it on the table to find answers to solve the puzzle before us but it all seems difficult and unfair. We end up blaming the data quality when we cannot explain the data. But does the fault really lie with the data? Or does it lie with the researcher’s path of analysis?
“A good puzzle, it’s a fair thing. Nobody is lying. It’s very clear, and the problem depends just on you.” ~Erno Rubik
The fieldwork that is carried out in the study gives you a certain amount of data. But who says that you are not allowed to look beyond your excel tables or transcripts? It’s not that your data is your spouse and you are cheating on it! Your data is like a friend, you can have more than one. In fact, in most cases, you would need more ‘data friends’ to help you complete your puzzle. The data that we receive after fieldwork is like somebody gives us a jigsaw puzzle, and we’re not given all of the pieces. We need to find the other pieces to crack the puzzle.
We can also look at it from the perspective of an explorer who needs to find the exact location of a ship in the sea. The method of ‘triangulation’ is used to solve this puzzle as follows:
”Triangulation can be used to calculate the coordinates and distance from the shore to the ship. The observer at A measures the angle α between the shore and the ship, and the observer at B does likewise for β . With the length l or the coordinates of A and B known, then the law of sines can be applied to find the coordinates of the ship at C and the distance d”
Hence, the integration of multiple data becomes mandatory to get a sharp focus on the solution.
“Reading widely and getting as much information as possible exposes you to small pieces of a giant jigsaw puzzle and even if the information is not 100% clear at the time, by shuffling it around in your mind, ideas eventually come to you.”
~ James Portman
As Aristotle says, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” When we integrate multiple sources of data a,b and c, it is not just a+b+c. It is in fact, a*b*c where the insights emerge multipled. There is a synergy that happens when we put 2 or more pieces of data in proximity to one another. We derive more insights instead of looking at them separately.
This phenomenon can be explained by the operational principle of gestalt psychology which says, “the brain is holistic, parallel, and analog, with self-organising tendencies.” Gestalt psychologists stipulate that perception is the product of complex interactions among various stimuli. Our brain is wired to perceive more than we actually see before us. Gestalt can be proved by these practical examples given below, where the human mind has the tendency to “complete” the puzzle when provided with relevant pieces:
This is called Reification, “the constructive or generative aspect of perception, by which the experienced perception contains more explicit spatial information than the sensory stimulus on which it is based”. In the figure above, one can deduce that figure A is a triangle and figure B&D are worms.
Hence, it becomes more important for the same person to look at all the sources of data instead of dividing the analysis into parts and outsourcing it to different teams. For example, when there is a project that involves both a quantitative as well as a qualitative phase, it is usually carried out by 2 teams that work more or less independently. In order to achieve gestalt, the entire thinking process should be integrated. It is not just about integrating the research; it is also about integrating the researcher. If the same person is involved in all phases, she will get a holistic picture and she will be able to create a complete “world” inside her mind.
“There are no extra pieces in the universe. Everyone is here because he or she has a place to fill, and every piece must fit itself into the big jigsaw puzzle.”
Pack your bags. Get on the road. Sweat it out on the field.
“After sleeping through a hundred million centuries we have finally opened our eyes on a sumptuous planet, sparkling with colour, bountiful with life. Within decades, we must close our eyes again. Isn’t it a noble, an enlightened way of spending our brief time in the sun, to work at understanding the universe and how we have come to wake up in it?” – Richard Dawkins
Every human being on this planet has an explorer within themselves. We need to explore, open closed doors to find answers to our questions. Those who do not make an attempt to get out in the sun and explore, they will never find the true answers they seek. This would apply to every human, every marketer and of course, to every market researcher.
It is said that a marketer should try to get as close and personal to their consumers as possible instead of sitting in their ivory tower. However, this task is usually passed on to the researcher. But the researcher dwells in their own cosy ivory tower. The researchers need to be close to their consumers. The researcher’s consumers are their respondents. The respondents ‘consume’ the survey experience and if the survey questionnaire is created in the air-conditioned ivory tower of the researcher’s office, there may be high chances of things going awry.
We all know that the source of revenue for all research comes from the client and hence we need to delight the marketer who is our ‘customer’. But shouldn’t researchers also look at the other side of the same coin and realise that their true ‘consumers’ are their respondents?
A researcher has to ‘sell’ 2 products to 2 types of consumers:
- The research findings to the client, in exchange of their money
- The ‘survey experience’ to the respondent , in exchange of their time
The quality of the first product mentioned above depends solely on the quality of the second product. Data lies at the heart of insights and the respondent lies at the heart of the data.
Hence, it is as important for the researcher to be as close to respondents as it is to the client. Making a mind blowing presentation to the client is important, but it is more important to have an excellent well-planned survey experience for your respondents. The biggest hurdle between you and the robust questionnaire is your personal bias and your blind faith on your own knowledge and experience. In the words of Charles Thompson-
“Do anything to prevent yourself from becoming a prisoner of your knowledge, experience, and current view of the world… Be an explorer.”
Hence, it becomes a paramount duty of the researcher to visit field work for each of their studies. The field is the best place to learn MR and to enhance one’s knowledge and experience!
In India, a major chunk of quantitative research happens through PAPI with interviewers going door-to-door requesting for respondent’s time. Most studies in India have their sample spread across different geographical zones and languages. Doing a research study covering the whole country of India is equivalent to doing a multi-country study! This makes the challenge greater for the researcher to design a one-size-fits-all questionnaire keeping in mind the cultural and attitudinal diversity of the different regions. One word in one language could mean something completely absurd in another language! If the researcher personally does not keep an eye out on field, there will be many glitches that will go unnoticed and if we realise these glitches after we receive the final data, it would be too late to rectify them. The researcher should adopt the mantra – Better Safe than Sorry!
Pilot tests should be a part of every study. However, in many cases there is dearth of time to insert a pilot. Hence, keeping an eye on field-work at least during the initial phase of the research becomes mandatory. It not only works as a quality control device, it also provides the researcher a first-hand “feel” of the respondents’ views and brings her closer to the hidden insights when may not be revealed just by looking at the rows and columns of the excel sheet data that we receive in our ivory towers. We must have encountered weird-looking and contradictory data many times in our studies. We end up blaming the data quality for it. We are left with many unanswered questions and loose ends that the rows and columns of numbers are not able to answer. If the researcher goes out and meets the respondent face-to-face, keeps an eye on how each question is being administered by the interviewer and how each answer is being recorded, she can easily plug in the missing pieces of the jigsaw puzzle. Getting to know the pulse of the consumers at their homes, being an explorer is what a true researcher should do. If we brainstorm and dive through the excel sheets within our offices, we will surely find a light bulb of an idea. But we should realise that the ‘sun’ is out there which glows brighter than a million light bulbs!
“Following the light of the sun, we left the Old World.” – Christopher Columbus
“Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.” – Buddha
We get a lucid understanding of events around us when we see/ hear them in the form of art. From ages, man has communicated information in the form of art, written or spoken. In this age of ‘information’, with dwarfing attention spans, there is a dire need of making it most convenient for people to grasp and understand the information we are trying to give to them.
As one of my clients said blatantly at the end of a bunch of market research presentations, “The audience is getting dumber and dumber everyday!” It made me sit up and think… I suddenly realised that a market researcher has another role to perform – the role of an artist, a dramatist, a story-teller.
As I was sitting through a bunch of presentations made by various research agencies to the client, I was finding it quite cumbersome to stop myself from dozing off. I found my eye balls oscillating from one cell to another in the table on the slide. All I could see were numbers, numbers and numbers filled on the slide. For a moment I was confused whether it was a PowerPoint slide show, or an excel sheet. Slide after slide, it was the same scenario. Although I agree that while presenting the findings of a quantitative study, our slides need to have numbers. But as human beings, our brains have certain limitations to processing a volley of numbers being shot at us. We need to create a map within our brain and make every element fit into it perfectly, only then will everything make sense to us. Otherwise, it all just flies from top of our heads!
As market researchers, we need to show some mercy on our clients. The human mind needs to be convinced in order to buy into any idea. After all, the ultimate end product that a researcher is giving to the client is an ‘idea’ or an ‘insight’ emerging from the data. And the manner in which the data/ idea is presented to the client will make a huge difference to its acceptance.
We must learn from the great artists about the secret of their success. As Picasso puts across very lucidly, “Art is the elimination of the unnecessary.” Similarly, our market research presentation should be considered as a form of art. While creating a presentation deck, we must look at it like our masterpiece and make it crisp and yet attention grabbing.
Market Research is done to deep-dive into the consumers’ mind and extract pearls of insight. Hence, the entire research findings presentation should focus around the consumer. We must understand companies from the consumer’s perspective instead of researching consumers from the company’s perspective. Each slide on our presentation deck should ideally look like the consumer speaking directly to the client instead of a third party (the research agency!) speaking on behalf of the consumer. This may sound absurd, but it is possible if the creator of the presentation can put herself in the shoes of the consumer and “feel” like the consumer while creating and presenting the deck. It requires empathy and an inner journey while looking at the data. After all, the subject of all our analysis, at the end of the day, is a human. Just like we tell stories about our friends and family members to each other, in the same way we need to narrate stories about human beings, whom we refer to as ‘consumers’. We should not use too much jargon because it makes one feel like we are describing a mechanical process like photosynthesis instead of describing the psyche and behavior of a human being. The narration should emerge from the heart. The language used in the presentation can also be made conversational and in first person as if the consumer has herself made the slides! For example, instead of writing “The consumers understood the context of the advertisement” in the presentation, we can just write “I understood the ad” in a call out. It would give the client a sense of being one step closer to the consumer while looking at your deck.
The use of visual elements in the deck also plays a very important role in keeping the audience attentive and interested. Especially, when presenting complicated numbers, it is better to use visual elements like Venn diagrams, mind maps and flow charts instead of plain tables. On an average, the time given to the audience in between 2 slides does not last for more than a minute. The human mind is capable of processing visual data much faster than textual data. Hence, if we want the audience to pick up more meat from our deck at the end of the day, we must use more visual cues.
As Leonardo Da Vinci says, ““Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”. There is always a limit to the amount of “jazzing up” one can do in a presentation. We do not want to crowd the slides with too many visuals and an overload of data. Being crisp, simple and to the point are the traits of Data Da Vinci!