by Terry Linhart

Attend any national gathering of research marketers and you will see a few seminars focused on the concern regarding “big data” and whether it is shaping future job opportunities. The concern for attendees is if there’s a future for them in market research when so much seems to be done automatically. 

As I listened to various speakers, I thought of the growth that Arbor has experienced in the last four years and the questions that our partners have asked and wanted us to answer. And looking ahead to the projects we’ll be doing in 2019, it sure seems to me like there will always be a need for quality work done by research experts.

And perhaps more than ever.

The problem with data has always been what to do with it all. You’ve seen bad decisions made where there was an abundance of data – just think of that awkward TV commercial you saw like the GoDaddy one about a lost puppy. To get an ad on national network television, that advertisement had to be written, proposed, and then approved by at least two in-house committees before a media production team stepped in to shoot, edit, and produce it. The puppy video was intended to be shown during the Super Bowl and it still missed the mark! 

As I look back at the remarkable growth of Arbor Research Group over the last four years, and I look toward 2019 (which is already shaping up to be even more robust than 2018), five realities about our “big data” world come to mind and help show why Arbor has grown so much. 

  1. Organizations are more data-driven than ever. Businesses and organizations swim in data every day, from social media tracking to programmatic ad buying to website analytics. Clicks, likes, and follows on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram are considered to have significance and can play a role in a whole host of decisions. There is significant promise here, though, as no longer is it as easy for a sole (and dominant) personality to get his/her way without data. The downside is that not all data are equal. Nor do they tell the real story of what’s going on. 
  2. Consumers are used to living in a data-driven world. Not only are organizations data-driven, but consumers are used to gladly providing data to them so that their needs can be better served. One of the richest is a loyalty program that we benefit from if we align our purchases and travel decisions with various companies. We have been (and are being) conditioned to sift through all forms of data as we determine what to purchase or what to do next in life, work, and (for some) even love. The upside here is that we have more transactional data than ever, but the downside is that we don’t know what people are thinking as they purchase or avoid our offerings. 
  3. At the same time, we’re wary and weary of being surveyed. Any transaction today is often followed by a follow-up survey that provides data (and creates a weariness toward surveys). We’ve noticed a tremendous rise in what we call “survey fatigue,” which means that we have to be smarter in how we collect the right data and find the true story of what’s going on. The upside is that people are accustomed to giving their input more than ever, but the downside is they want to do so when there is a personal benefit for giving those responses. 
  4. You have to cut through the data clutter to find the story. There is a “sea of sameness” with many research agencies. Trends and percentages abound in infographics and white papers, but what do the numbers mean? And how do those numbers influence the mission and bottom-line of an organization, if at all? Without qualitative layers in the research, we may have the numbers but we don’t know why or how they matter. And we may end up with a TV commercial that America finds awkward (Did anyone in the process of that video own a pet? Or know how beloved pets are in American culture?). 
  5. At the end of the day, the right people still need to do the thinking. I’ve found through the years that the people I hire and admire are the ones who have the right instincts and insights. When there is a lack of clear direction, can they intuit (based on their expertise and experience) what direction to take? It’s likely that our example of a TV commercial resulted in someone being fired or not re-hired. So, I always look for longevity on a job as a telltale sign in a hiring process. Even in a “big data” world, there are people at the end of it who will do the interpreting of the data and make the recommendations THAT group is the critical piece more than big data. And for that reason, I want to tell up-and-coming market researchers not to panic but to do their best work.

Because the Arbor team includes some of the leading qualitative experts in the country, we give voice to qualities that tell the best story for the phenomena in our studies. Marketing people call this “voice of the customer insights,” but it’s more than a list of stories, it is the tapestry that we piece together so clients can see both the big picture and the segments that put it together.

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Photo by Stephen Dawson on Unsplash