By Jack Miles

Following on from the ESOMAR Global Qualitative Conference, the quantitative minds of the research world took to the stage in Berlin for ESOMAR’s Big Data Conference.

This was notably different from the qualitative session as it was the first big data event ESOMAR have organized vs. the 20th offering of the qualitative conference.

However, it was no different in that it was two days of creative learning that included casino games and dancing, from a mix of agencies, clients, former gymnasts and technology historians, littered with fun facts courtesy of Christophe Ovaere.

Before going into the key learning points, let’s establish the widespread assumptions about big data:

  • It enables access to insight at potentially rapid speeds with cost savings
  • It increases commercial agility
  • Behavioural data is more trusted at a time when survey quality is under scrutiny
  • Big data needs new skills to handle it

On top of these widely held assumptions, what key learning points about big data were added at was undoubtedly the world’s most sophisticated first birthday party?

Dan Ariely is No Longer Correct

In 2013 Dan Ariely claimed that:

“Everyone is talking about big data, nobody really knows how to do it, everyone thinks everyone else is doing it, so everyone claims they are doing it.’

This now simply isn’t true. ESOMAR’s Big Data conference demonstrated that big data is being used in the business world. Whether it be Microsoft using big data to inform the launch of the Lumia, Sky to inform referral scheme decisions, Viacom to inform content acquisition or AOL for NPD, it’s happening, and with real commercial outputs to prove the benefits.

Big Data Is a People Game

Across the board, we must not forget we are in the people game – not the binary business:

People Purpose: One of the most prominent forms of big data – Twitter – classify themselves as a tool best used to understand human culture.

People Process: Kim Smouter highlighted that in order to protect people from data abuse, the processes involved in safeguarding big data has to be humanized and empathetic.

People Power: Sky and Relish Research outlined how big data can best apply real value when bringing together three strands of people – marketer, researcher and data scientist – as all have unique skills central to solving business problems.

People Persuasion: Behind all the IT and science, we need to remember that we are hoping to use big data to sway stakeholder decisions. This means big data needs to inspire change and drive calls to action. As Unilver & IPSOS demonstrated, this is best done by granting potential users of big data simple, visual and instant access to its knowledge.

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

Whatever trivia fact you believe about the quantity of data in the world, what we must all agree on is that there’s a lot of it. This correlates to (and no doubt has also caused) increased consumer anxiety about data privacy. As researchers, we need to reflect this across notification of data usage and consent of purpose. The reality is that this means we need to invest more resource in data management and flow systems. If we want to reap the business benefits of big data, we need to govern it appropriately.

Big Data Currently Has A Small Strategy

The vast quantity of data we have now means that it’s organization, management and deployment now needs a strategy behind it. Something it currently lacks. MammothDB highlighted this need by identifying the reality that this is not a job for IT – IT’s just purpose is to safeguard yesterday’s systems, not tomorrow’s insights. Additionally, the fact we make use of such a small proportion of data available to us means that although we are using big data, we are only at the tip of the iceberg – making data a core business strategy is the next step in leveraging its potential.

In closing, ESOMAR’s first Big Data Conference showed several new sides to the big data movement – creativity, gut instinct, humanization, and most importantly, case studies highlighting big data’s commercial value. This indicates to me that big data may be young in conference terms, but a) is more mature in business terms and b) is certainly here to stay.

By Jack Miles