Under more scrutiny than ever before, marketing managers are turning to data to take the guesswork out of business decisions and justify spending. Today’s marketing channels generate an ever-increasing variety, volume, velocity and complexity of information. Every action and interaction can be recorded, tracked and analyzed.
But as a recent New York Times article demonstrated, there are at least nine big problems with big data. One of which is the echo chamber effect. Much of big data comes from the web, yet the users generating the data may not be representative of the population in general. Further, since more of the web is drawing on big data, whenever the source of information for a big data analysis is itself a product of big data, opportunities for vicious cycles abound. These are known problems that the data industry is still working to overcome.
In addition to the massive amounts of online data being collected, organizations conduct market research to uncover additional insights into their target audience. Researchers employ a variety of tools for quantitative and qualitative studies. Questionnaires and surveys are a favorite for quantitative studies while focus groups are the primary tool for qualitative studies. According to the Marketing Research Association, roughly 70% of all consumer research dollars are spent on qualitative research. In the US alone over 200,000 focus groups are conducted annually, with an estimated $7 billion being spent on focus group testing.
Despite the popularity of surveys and focus groups, experienced marketers will readily admit both types of research have serious drawbacks and limitations. Survey questionnaires are tightly scripted based on the researcher’s own decisions and assumptions as to what is and is not important, therefore they often contain inherent bias. By their very nature, online or printed surveys do not allow the researcher to probe for subtle meanings or context behind answers. And studies show the length of the survey has a direct bearing on the quality of the findings. If surveys are too long, answers deteriorate as the respondent repeats the same score in an effort to complete the process.
Focus groups have their own problems. Focus groups are an artificial environment that subject people to peer pressure. Participants’ opinions can be influenced by facial expressions, body language or other reactions. Further, participants know they are being paid, fed and watched and may change their behavior or hold back opinions as a result. If the subject matter is sensitive, personal or potentially embarrassing, participants may withhold vital information that would affect the quality of the research results.
Given the challenges associated with these research methods, marketers and their agencies are often awash in data but still in a quandary over how to market in a way that will resonate with consumers. At Bodden Partners, we have enjoyed a string of successes using our own proprietary approach to understanding why consumers buy.
More on that in my next post. Can’t wait? Contact us for a custom consultation.