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Big Data and Survey Data - ‘Data Partners’

The new consumer diaries

Any sensible person will ask, “Why create something which already exists?”. As consumers embraced the Internet, the Internet tightly clasped them back with even greater fervor, gradually beginning to store and record their activities on what has become a hugely influential part of their daily lives. To marketers, the accurate collection of data on consumer behavior had always posed a challenge, as consumers can’t always be relied upon to clearly recall exactly what they do. The stated frequency of product usage or consumption is always exaggerated, and related time periods are often minimized (consumers tend to claim using a product much nearer to the time of questioning than they actually did).


To overcome the seemingly eternal struggles associated with unreliable consumer memory, marketers and researchers often asked customers to fill in elaborate diaries, costing those concerned excessive amounts in offered incentives. However, our new worldwide web-based age suggests this is no longer the case. The development of every contemporary individual’s ‘online footprint’ has quietly become an invaluable source to those who wish to understand, analyze and utilize consumer behavior data. Shopping and travel habits are instantly imprinted in e-commerce and transportation websites, with payment behavior recorded via Alipay and WeChat pay, details on website visitation and app downloads are also contributors to the vast ocean of data the internet has given birth to.


Those who have heard of Cambridge Analytica (who hasn’t?) would also be aware that big data is capable of delving much deeper than mere behavior. In the realm of Social Media, the kind of content a person likes, comments on or shares turns formerly private lives into open books available to any interested reader. Experts have shown that merely with the aid of a limited number of online interactions, people’s attitudes and desires can be revealed beyond even what their friends or family may claim to know about them. These are barely a few of the innumerable categories of consumer ‘big data’ information which are constantly being collected, contributing to what is gradually becoming an incredibly rich and detailed tapestry of a person’s interests, preferences and lifestyle.


Such large-scale databases are a goldmine for data analysts and marketers, with the synchronization of these sources having created a climate where implementing successfully targeted marketing strategies has seldom been easier. Industry experts can segment, profile and target brand advocates and likely purchasers with a level of accuracy never before seen in the history of consumer marketing.


Is it good-bye to survey-based small data?


Understandably, big data has the potential to replace the more costly and time-consuming conventional survey data as a source of strategic insight across a number of industries. In fact, it can be argued that over time there would be no relevant behavior, opinion or attitude that could not be captured online. Why should an investor in these services waste the extra time and expenditure when they can simply take a dip in the vast data ocean with the right guide?


However, the vastness of this data ocean is ironically where its well-publicized shortcomings are revealed, and where the benefits of the revolutionary integration of survey (small) data and big data can be realized. The critical role of survey data arises when the information required by a business is so sharp and specific that it’s intricacy either does not exist, or when it is hopelessly lost and undiscoverable in a sprawl of big data from a multitude of sources.


While consumers will eventually perhaps express their views towards almost every product on social media, the marketer may need more detailed feedback than the average Facebook or Twitter user will offer. Comments and ‘tweets’ are not often works of Shakespeare. For instance, the marketer may need specific feedback after a product launch, which can be obtained with reliable accuracy through a focused survey.


Additionally, while consumers’ positive actions may be easily explained, reasons for consumer inaction are often not apparent - why did the consumer ignore the marketer’s offer? what barriers exist to trial? These are questions which can be more accurately  addressed through data collected from customized research programs. Big data can also be utilized quite cleverly to target individuals not only for marketing purposes, but to find segments likely to offer valuable feedback through a more direct survey, revealing even more clearly the true nature of the marketers target population and the immense benefits of synchronizing these big and small data partners.