Will Big Data Kill The Market Research Star?

Madhav Mirani

The traditional approach to market research was to design a questionnaire, figure out a way to get that in front of consumers, motivate or incent them to answers questions, collect and analyse the data and publish the analysis. But who, as a consumer, is eager to fill out yet another questionnaire asking their gender, age, ethnicity, and then going on and on from there? What did you eat for breakfast yesterday? What made you buy a particular brand of shampoo? Do you run – 1-3 miles, 3-6 miles, 6-10 miles? 

We ask questions for everything because we don’t have other ways to get the data we need. There is a general acknowledgement that as human beings our attention spans are getting shorter, yet we certainly don’t see that impacting questionnaire lengths. We love to make our questionnaires long and introduce complicated and convoluted grids and complex tables because we think that once we have the consumer answering a survey, we need to ask them everything possible. Raise your hand if you have seen a question asking you to select from the following 20 options and select all that can apply. Taking surveys these days can be like taking an exam!

But what if there was a better way to acquire some data and information passively (permission-based of course) and only ask specific and pointed questions for data that cannot be acquired passively? What if our questionnaire lengths could indeed go below 10 minutes?

We believe that “wearables” are going to revolutionise many industries, and that market research will be one of them. Let’s take a look at a few possibilities.

Apple recently launched the Health app and HealthKit  for developers to build more apps. Think about the applications from a research perspective. If you didn’t even need to ask someone to remember the last time they visited a doctor or dentist (because you already know), you could more directly target those who fit your desired profile for your study and go straight to asking your specific questions. Say you want to understand why someone chose a particular form of treatment. Instead of going through the rigmarole of asking him/her what treatment they chose, you can just get to the “why.” Instead of asking someone how many miles a week they run, you already have the exact number, and can get right to the key questions that you want answered.

iBeacon  from Apple is another interesting technology which is slowly gaining momentum. While the focus of iBeacon is to revolutionalise the retail experience, the applications for research are very interesting. We can get access to location data, we can figure out exactly where someone spent time within the location in question, we can find out how much time they spent where and ask pointed questions related to the same.

Take Fitbit and the slew of devices that they have come out with. Fitbit has already recognized the power of the data they collect and are enabling developers to get access to the data through APIs. You can see data that shows how active someone is on a day-to-day basis. This might enable very specific targeting of questions to a select audience. You can even access data on how much someone weighs. Again, for very specific research problems and questions, the power of that data is incredible.

Then there’s the wearable that gets the most publicity – Google Glass. There are interesting ways in which one could leverage Google Glass for research purposes. Google Glass will presumably be producing data on what consumers are looking at, which could be combined with the “why” questions to result in some very powerful insight. Or it could simulate a virtual 3D experience of something you want to test with a consumer which would enable a more cost-effective and practical way to get some answers.

These are exciting examples. We believe that we are near a tipping point when it comes to wearables. Today, they are still a niche product and used by a small percentage of the population. Hence, any research applications are limited. However, our view is that the growth in these products will be on a vertical trajectory by 2015. Once that happens, we will see the impact on research very, very quickly.

Madhav Mirani is Chief Marketing Officer at Ugam Solutions