One of the current memes in the research biz is that big data will lead to the obsolescence of marketing research. The new breed of C-suiters, the thinking goes, will find the act of asking consumers about what they did or plan to do hopelessly outmoded. Instead of ad hoc research, the way forward is to mine and marry the rich veins of information generated by social media and other sources to build a complete picture of actual – rather than stated – consumer behavior.
That strategy for using big data certainly has merit but those who argue for its superiority seem to overlook the fact that big data, all by itself, is pretty dumb. You can have a stream of data points or a string of facts that, when viewed separately, don’t tell you anything. But when you – the researcher, the analyst – are able to connect them, put them in context and tie them to current business issues, those disparate bits suddenly begin to speak, and speak with force and clarity.
Make no mistake: research needs to continually justify its existence and demonstrate its worth. But the view from here is that big data doesn’t have to mean big worries for researchers.
That sanguine take seems to be held by more than a few in the industry, judging by results from a survey of corporate researchers fielded in April by WebLife Research, New York. The August issue of Quirk’s will have a more complete report on the findings but in looking over the responses (we helped WebLife recruit prospective respondents in exchange for editorial access to the study results) to questions about the role and impact of big data, a majority (61.9 percent) said research was as important as ever within their organizations and another third agreed that research was more important than ever and that it helped uncover the whys behind big data.
When asked how worried they are that big data will render their jobs obsolete, 60 percent were not worried at all (choosing a 1 on five-point scale of worry from “not worried at all” to “very worried”) and an additional combined 35 percent put themselves in the 2-3 range on the scale. Under 1 percent claimed to be very worried.