#Big MR – From Big Data to the Big Picture

This article was published in the May 2016 Issue of the Online MR Magazine – CLICK HERE to read the magazine.

How can we deliver actionable advice from data?

Interview with Darren Mark Noyce,

Founder of MR Consulting firm Skopos London 

Online MAG BannerTo begin, with the mammoth amount of data being thrown at a market researcher today – how can information be derived from this chaos?

Darren Mark Noyce: Very good question and a great place to start. Our clients at Skopos are mostly large brands and organisations, who are bombarded with more data and data sources than ever nowadays, what with the emergence of internal customer (behaviour) analytics, website analytics, social media streams, plus the more traditional campaign and market research trackers, projects, etc. Careful selection, control and triangulation is largely our philosophy for handling this, although being adaptable in this changeable world also helps we find.

With the new large (big) data sets from internal sources where this is disparate and too large to data-mine in one go, we recommend carefully and ideally scientifically selecting (or sampling) the data so it is relevant and representative, and in smaller volumes – so it is more manageable (whilst still representative and trustworthy).

Essentially utilising our strengths as Market Researchers in science and data management to co-ordinate the data sources and analysis for our clients. Triangulation is our approach to ensuring the “truth” (or reality) is seen and understood from the multiple perspectives now possible, whether it be website user behaviours, social media posts or market research feedback. Often these align quite easily, but sometimes the ‘truth’ is uncovered where the perspectives appear to differ.

We call this the “dissonance differential” – and deeper research on these occasions (via further analysis and if need be more market research study) allows for the determination of one single reality seen from different perspectives; triangulated truth.

An excellent example would be work we’ve conducted for a major European logistics firm, where we installed a large customer satisfaction tracker for their web-based communications and marketing. This regular data was analysed both in initial isolation by our researchers; then in combination with both the firm’s website analytics data (from their developers and internal analysts), and also alongside social media posts selected for their relevance to the firm’s website and web-based delivery.

This helped uncover, decipher and diagnose those perhaps more hidden smaller issues, that have a big impact on customer/user satisfaction, e.g. in this case not being able to find a simple phone number on the website (and talk to someone). Having not been explicitly covered in the survey, it was found to be an issue via regular Twitter messages from a select number of customers.

DarrenCan we fully comprehend and leverage the power of BIG DATA? Or are we just honking about it to feel good?

Darren Mark Noyce: Yes and yes! With the power of technology, and the amazing curiosity, sensitivity and capability of the human brain, we are more than capable of analysing virtually any data set.

We evolved consciousness; decoded the genome; we counted the stars and mapped the infinite universe (and gave it a birth date); of course we can leverage any large data set or multiple data sets for information and insight! But equally, there is a lot of fluff and hype around this area, and a Californian-like gold-rush just to be there. The large firms may well best be placed to handle the massive data that is out there and being generated in exponential amounts by firms and their customers.

But as experience at my firm tells us, this may only need to a greater need for further explanatory (market) research to help decipher the more intriguing insights the big data no doubt will produce. Big data analysts (“data scientists”) have to ensure though they are uncovering new facts and insights, or describing behaviours that could be interesting and useful to decision-makers in firms, and are able to communicate them well, or the power and the magic will be lost. Market Research has a true tradition and heritage in providing such flexible impactful insight solutions, delivered to decision-makers in an actionable trusted way.

Can Big Data do this on its own? Perhaps we should work together? Big MR anyone?

Do market researchers listen to the client’s problems when the clock is ticking for them to deliver fast results? How do we ensure that we don’t fall into this pitfall? How can we make market research FAST without compromising on quality of data?

Darren Mark Noyce: The best market research consultants, as you will find at Skopos, will always listen  and adapt to a client’s needs and issues – and will at all times advise if data quality (or anything else) might be at risk, whether this be through speed, budget, design or something else.

As we all know, there are firms out there who will provide “instant insights” for a fee, but here you will find little or no advice or service (or even communication if it is a DIY platform). This is absolutely fine if the client is confident and knows the limitations of any platform. But caution is advised, especially if it seems to be too good to be true (e.g. “instant insights for peanuts”).

But sometimes speed is a necessity, perhaps to counter an emergency or competitor move. Quality at speed is of course possible, with necessary knowledge, budget and resource. Utilising a third party consulting firm makes sense, as they can take the load and responsibility and deliver against brief (needs). They can also ensure the necessary quality (even at speed) by ensuring the study design is as scientific as possible, valid and reliable (the sample structure, the questionnaire design, the analysis spec, the statistics, the interpretation and meaning).

Our best advice would be that where speed is the over-riding driver, know why this is. Is it really speed, or an ultra-nervous or over-anxious decision-maker, who might feel calmer if he was advised (say over a late morning coffee) that if they waited one week for the study to be implemented properly (and spend £10k more), that his results (and the outcome of his decision) would be much more precise, complete, decipherable and reliable. And they would have an external expert to lean on for the implementation, analysis, interpretation, and most importantly ‘meaning’. Or more proverbially speaking….

God made time, but man made haste (Irish Proverb)

The devil takes a hand in what is done in haste (Turkish Proverb).

How can researchers deal with the inefficiency of traditional methodologies to connect with the new age consumers?

Darren Mark Noyce: Every method of data collection (in person, phone, online, paper, etc.) has its strengths and weaknesses, and none is perfect (notwithstanding the unreliability of human behaviours and response, which would impact any Q&A and some observational research methods).

There is still a HUGE role for more traditional research methods today. Take for instance qualitative focus groups and depth interviews. Some of the oldest methods, we at Skopos are undertaking more of these than ever (even with our Digital reputation). The key reason is they help uncover feelings, emotions, beliefs, reactions etc. that is just not possible online (or over the phone for that matter).

Inefficiency in the question presumably refers to “slower, costlier, less convenient”. Whether to use less efficient methods will always be a judgement call after a good conversation (and good communications) with the client. What research is required to meet the holistic business need(s) and decisions should always be the first call; pared back to meet budgets and timescales only if this really has to be the case. Skopos, like all the best MR agencies, has the full toolkit of methods at its disposal managed by experienced experts. Any inefficiencies are openly discussed and managed to minimise impact (on the project and client).

Are restrictive budgets hampering market researchers to provide ‘actionable’ insights? Is there a way to deal with such constraints?

Darren Mark Noyce: No and yes. Market Researchers are wonderfully curious and capable chaps. They can take multiple or single data sources, assess the validity and reliability, undertake analysis, and paint pictures that tell the story so the client can make decisions and act. They can do this on a ‘shoestring’ if required, and most experienced researchers have cases where they have done so.

My favourite is a fast and cost effective study we undertook for a major global lager (light beer) brewer, which looked at various new on-pack promotions they were considering. At the last moment, we proposed including a promotion from a competitor brand (in this case Guinness) in the study/questionnaire design to assess the relative interest in each promotion (whether for the client or Guinness).

Famously Guinness promotions were by far and away preferred over the client’s, even amongst lager-only or non-stout drinkers! This led to a major re-think of the client strategy on promotions (and the research on promotions), and a re-focus on the core brand values, equity and overall marketing (of this very well-known global light beer). Sometimes the best thinking occurs under pressure, but not usually though. A good timescale and good budget will lead to a better project and outcome.

Are consumers really forthcoming with their true feelings on social media platforms or is it a herd mentality? Can we trust such opinions?

Darren Mark Noyce: Some consumers love to spout their opinions; others avoid social media like it is the plague (my step-dad and my best mate included, so they are not represented or reachable via Facebook/Twitter). Some like to share, some like to keep their activity and opinions to themselves. Many of us are somewhere in between, and select the times, occasions and platforms/channels on which we share.

Can we trust what they say? Yes, but in context. Some are, as you suggest in the question, going along with the crowd and use social media to do this as they like to ‘belong’. Social Media provides this. Their posts and comments have to be understood in this context. Others, perhaps the opinion leaders (or the loud ones) like to broadcast, and perhaps are more prone to anger and boasting in their comments (which when psycho-analysed perhaps suggests insecurities and/or needs not met in their “real” day to day lives).

Again, these are ‘true’ comments but context is everything. In truth, where public and visible (i.e. not password protected/private) Social Media channels provide a great source of on-going open sentiment and broadcasted opinions for those that use these channels (and the sub-segments of these, as I described a moment ago). In our experience though, using this social data for deeper research and moreover for diagnostic (why) study and deciphering real business issues is not recommended.Controlled, targeted and well-designed Market Research study provides much more precise and reliable data and information. But this requires the goodwill of our respondents of course…

How can we ‘pull’ consumers to gather insights rather than ‘push’ them to seek information?

Darren Mark Noyce: I like this question as it opens up the debate on how we treat respondents and informants. We really should respect our fellow humans. We should reward them for their input and for the value of their input (brands can make billions of pounds of profit remember from their customers and their respondents). And as important, we should maintain relations and communications so they feel their input was worthwhile (intrinsically, not just extrinsically). The best way to do this is to share the results and outcomes in an open honest way, to build trust and respect.

But where this is not possible, we should also ensure that these respondents believe in what we do, that they believe in Market Research per se. By mutually allowing brands to declare results proclaiming this shampoo is better than that one, but with only 73 respondents won’t help! Pre-election opinion polls that are not open about the true margin of error (given the uncertainty of predicting ANY human behaviour) won’t help.

Offering a Mars bar or 100 panel-points worth 25p for a 20 minute survey won’t help. The trouble is the constricted client budgets for Market Research, and the over-supply or competition in the industry, has led to the commodification of the project. This in turn reduces prices and margins, meaning suppliers have to cost control where they can so that they can maintain margins and cover overheads – and often this has started with streamlining respondent communications and incentives. Our source of data has become the true commodity here. There will always be those that will complete surveys just to pass the time, but are they trustworthy and representative?

True trust comes from a win-win healthy relationship. Not exploitation. The same is true of client-agency partnerships. And these will only improve once the Board Members of these large firms truly appreciate the great work MR and CI departments and their agencies do, and the great input and insights they provide (delivering both the necessary reassurance and occasionally rocket fuel that decision-makers love). The C Suite can’t work or rely on their guts (or their accounts) alone. They just can’t.

And so they need to boost the budgets for MR/CI/CX departments to ensure and demonstrate they are truly customer-centric (and that this is not just another buzz phrase).

What are the changes you will like to recommend that will have a positive impact on the quality of data that we deliver?

Darren Mark Noyce: Rubbish in, rubbish out. It’s always been true and always will be.

Verify and validate before trusting any data source. Where does it come from? Why does it exist? What structure is it in, if at all? Why ordered like that? Does it include everyone, or a sample? Can the sample be trusted (is it reliable and representative)? Are the bits of data meaningful? Are they text or numbers? Can they be analysed (in the platforms we have)? Do we need new (MR) data to answer our questions/needs? The basics really.

To ensure this and improve things, we need understanding and some control. Of course, much of the ‘old’ data streams were built in isolation with no view to incorporation into big picture analysis. Going forward, this won’t be the case so things will naturally improve. And there is much work now to be make various data sources ‘compatible’ and analysable together.

In terms of the (MR) data we deliver to clients, it must be based on the decision to be made. The advice we give based on the data we collect or analyse, must be valid and trusted. For this we need good data (see above) plus specialist analysis and expert (experience-based) interpretation. The best consulting firms can support MR/CI departments with this (for their decision-makers).

When it comes to generating ‘actionable’ insights what key factors have to be taken care of by market researchers?How do you ensure that the information you are providing is actionable?

Darren Mark Noyce: The only way of knowing the project has delivered actionable advice is by working with the client, not just for them. To enable this, building rapport as well as respect is key, on both sides. Getting to know the team, and the people around them (especially key stakeholders and decision makers) is also important, who do they need to advise and why. Can we help them? What are their needs and preferences?

To optimise the likelihood of success, the project team needs to have real credentials and relevant experience. This needs to cover the sector, the client/brands, the research method, the analysis and the story-telling. One side can’t cover all, and so the partnership between client and agency needs to ensure all these bases are covered as well as possible; and have great communication, rapport and mutual respect to ensure nothing gets left un-said or un-done.

In summary, actionable advice develops from real relationships and relevant research. Think Proper Partnerships for Modern MR; which when combined with all the new data sources, can help to triangulate the truth and paint those big pictures. At Skopos, we like to think of this as #BigMR.

Skopos loves to help big brands with actionable advice, and has recently launched a range of free client pocket guides covering the likes of ‘Partnering with Agencies’, DIY MR, and Mobile-based MR. They are available on request from Skopos, from here: www.Skopos.London/Pocket-Guide,or by searching online for “Skopos Pocket Guides”. 

This article was published in the May 2016 Issue of the Online MR Magazine – CLICK HERE to read the magazine.