When Big Data finally becomes a reality, does that mean market research will become surplus to requirements?  Will surveys, focus groups and interviews become relics of a bygone age?

Some would say so.

They argue that we already have the answers to most questions at our fingertips.  They’re sitting in our servers and on the web.  All we need to do is mine the data to reveal the insight.  That being the case, why bother asking customers themselves, especially as what people say they do, doesn’t always match what they actually do?

They’ve got a point.  There’s no doubt that Big Data has huge potential to reveal hidden insights.  But it’s a complement to, not replacement for, market research.  Mining Big Data can reveal patterns in how customers behave and even predict future behaviour.  But it can’t reveal everything.

  1. First, there’s a practical consideration – Big Data isn’t always available or doesn’t always relate to the issue of interest.
  2. Second, Big Data tells us what, but not usually why.  If we are to influence customer behaviour then we need to know why they do what they do; their decision making processes and motivations.
  3. Third, Big Data can’t reveal how people think and feel.  If we’re to understand more abstract issues like branding or barriers to change then we need to explore emotions and perceptions.  These live in the mind, not on a database.
  4. And fourth, Big Data can’t fully explore hypothetical situations.  For example, what untapped needs are there in the market?  What do customers think about new product concepts?  How persuasive are different potential marketing messages?

So it’s not a dichotomy.  Big Data and market research are complementary to each other.  They’re both just ways of gaining insights and we should blend the two together to create a holistic view.

Find out more about Circle Research’s B2B marketing research services here.

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About Andrew

Andrew has specialised in B2B research for over a decade and co-founded Circle Research in 2006. He is a columnist for B2B Marketing Magazine, a regular contributor to Research Live and frequent speaker at leading events such as the B2B Leaders Forum, Customer Experience Live and the Social Media World Forum. Andrew is a Chartered Member of the MRS, teaches the MRS B2B research course and holds an MA in Psychology from Aberdeen University alongside an MSc in Marketing from Strathclyde University.

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