By Jack Miles

15th November 2016 sees ESOMAR’s first Big Data conference take place in Berlin and to some extent represents the global research industry welcoming big data into our toolkit with open arms. This feels a long time coming as the relationship between research and big data has – in my opinion – been somewhat frosty, largely because we don’t know how to treat it.

Is it a saboteur?

The fact that, depending which source you believe, big data is cited as being born as far back as 7,000 years ago when the Ancient Greeks started recording the quantity of their herds and crops, or

1944 when Fremont Rider, Wesleyan University Librarian, speculated that based on current growth Yale library would require 6,000 staff by 2040, suggests it is. Why else has it taken this long to embrace it?

Or is it a potential sidekick?

2011 saw big data as a search term start its propulsion in terms of Google searches – this correlates with PWC’s assertion that our industry has grown by 62% since 2012. We all know that correlation is not causation – but when data analytics has grown by 350% since 2012, the two appear to be predictively linked, and if so, big data is the loyal side kick research needs.

As I write this I am very aware this debate is nothing new. But let’s look at it from a third – and hopefully original – perspective:

Perhaps big data is neither, perhaps big data is our stylist?

Hear me out. Research – let’s be honest – has long had somewhat of a boring stereotype. Whether it be academics sitting in a cobwebbed library or telephone pollsters interrupting evening television. Let’s be under no illusions – big data and its associated skills of data science are cool, so much so that data scientist has already been highlighted as the ‘sexiest job of the 21st century’. With the relationship between research and big data closing in proximity, that is only a good thing for our industry’s image and hopefully will allow us to attract greater visibility among clients.

Furthermore, not only does the relationship between research and big data make us ‘cool by association’ – it is also positively shaping the people profile of those who work in our industry. We can no longer just be ‘researchers’. The presence of big data has forced us to also take on identity traits of sectors such as IT and technology. Functionally we need these areas to use big data, but from an image perspective it’s showing business decision makers that we are widening and modernising our skill sets in a way that fits with wider societal direction.

I understand that these are all macro level impacts, so let’s look at more minute details:

  • The forthcoming ESOMAR conference is taking place in Berlin, a city with technology at its forefront that is aspiring to be the next Silicon Valley. For research to be aligned with big data in a city with such an image can only help push our industry’s performance on perceptual progressiveness
  • Let’s also think about some of the brands that are talking in Berlin: Microsoft, Twitter, Viacom and Facebook. The growth of our relationship with big data has allowed us to share a stage with such brands and allowed us to attain ‘credit by association’
  • Some of the topics covered in Berlin include data fusion, the future of data analytics and the inspiration ecosystem – exciting issues, all that are stretching the boundaries of what research conferences discussed pre-big data. Such exciting and commercially relevant topics would not likely be shared on a research orientated stage were it not for how we are now styled, and in part defined, by or proximity to big data

From Frost to Favour…

When we take these factors into account, regardless of whether you feel big data is a saboteur or sidekick to research, what is evident is that the connection between the two favourably benefits the image of research as a brand in several ways. With budgets for marketing services consistently becoming harder to fight for across marketing disciplines, this can only be a good thing.

So thank you big data for helping style our image as it will be seen on 15th-17th November – there is no frost felt here!

Jack Miles, Senior Consultant, The Leading Edge