Consumers today are obsessed with being online—no matter what device they use, from their phone to their laptop, tablet or watch. For market researchers, the multi-device trend is a goldmine for collecting data.
One of the most used forms of primary data collection was to ask participants to answer questions directly, but now we have many more options at our disposal.
We now have access to data that does not need to be collected by asking questions—in fact, it can’t be. Asking questions is fast becoming the slowest and least cost-effective source of data collection.
New technologies are capable of passively collecting data. This data is richer and more contextual than anything we’ve seen in the past – maybe more so than any answer from any participant. In no way are we saying that this will kill other data collection techniques (e.g., CATI, online, face-to-face, etc.). Each will have its own space and usability.
The amount of data generated is already larger than ever before, and it comes in a different form than we are used to. It is mostly unstructured, but highly contextual if seen through the right glasses.
The online advertising industry has found that using large amounts of unstructured data, in the right way, helps create very accurate user profiles that allow them to target online advertising to very specific segments of the population.
There is a lot we can learn from these experiences:
Facebook: A Data Giant! Last year, Facebook introduced a capability that allows users to search their posts and their friends’ posts. This was achieved by indexing the activity of their 1.3 billion users.
With this capability, Facebook is able to build links with all the data that their users have been feeding onto their platform. They can also compare it and blend it with all of the data from my contacts to extend these links and create patterns. So essentially Facebook is able to understand how I behave, think and even feel.
You may think, “Well, I don’t share much on Facebook, so I’m safe,” but what little you are sharing right now is enough to match it to someone else’s similar profile and decode pretty well what your interests are.
1.35 billion users provide a lot of data. I like to think that people are quite unique, but the sad truth is that we are very predictable. This is the foundation of the market research industry; we try to understand how a group of the population behaves by studying a statistically representative subset of that population. Think of the largest panel that you have ever worked with and it is merely a fly on the wall compared to the Facebook community.
Facebook is one of the most important human data repositories to ever exist, and it will only get richer as technology gets more sophisticated.
Some Important Lessons
First, the online advertising world is moving fast. Google, Baidu, and the most important online advertising delivery organizations, all have similar initiatives that involve artificial intelligence and machine learning. They are embracing the changes and riding the wave.
Second, partial data is valuable: Facebook doesn’t need to know everything about you to be able to accurately target advertising that is relevant to you. They just need to know enough information so they can find your similar self. There will be someone out there sharing similar information to you in bigger quantities that will match your profile. If you think of this same approach, how many of you are using partial data from dropouts, terminates, etc. from your surveys? Are you discarding this data?
John Puleston from GMI (@jonpuleston) is well known for his “bonsai surveys” approach and his campaign to “eradicate boring surveys.” This method allows you to set question level quotas, so you can stop asking a section of your survey if you have enough data. Or maybe use that partial data in your results if the entire survey is not completed. In consequence you end up with shorter surveys that are more engaging and quicker to complete.
Have you thought of how much money you can save if you could use partial data from dropouts in your surveys? Have you thought of using all the information from your completed surveys to create profiles that help you validate that partial data? This radical approach changes the conversation in our industry, where the “complete” is not the most important unit, but data itself.
We need to have the right mindset and embrace the changes coming our way. There are many companies out there already thinking like this. At Ugam, we would love to work with you to rethink the future of research, look at your data differently and find new ways to understand it and create insights.
Without a doubt, technology is disrupting every aspect of our lives, and it will continue to rock the boat of the market research industry. The most important thing is to have a disruptive mindset. We shouldn’t be afraid to try new things. Our clients will thank us for it!
Some of the content in this article originally appeared in RWConnect on January 19, 2015.
Felix Rios is a Market Research Technology Manager at Ugam. He is passionate about technology and beyond the office walls, also enjoys photography.