Big Data in Consumer Research?
Big Data can be used effectively in Consumer Research
As technology moves forward in leaps and bounds, the latest and most underreported breakthrough is big data.
What big data has the ability to do, is to track and profile users through their browsing habits, across platforms and service providers.
While how much of this information could and should be used by service providers, is currently being debated, the fact is that the detail available with these providers is immense.
Big Data companies are riding on this bank of information, creating software that will be able to collate information from different databases around the world and create an unnervingly accurate description of the user, their likes, dislikes and behaviour.
While this opens up opportunities for companies to micro-target their consumers, one industry that has not been using this platform to its maximum benefit is Qualitative Consumer Research.
What you do online, speaks volumes about you as a consumer. Unfortunately very few organizations are tapping into this vast resource of information to understand the qualitative aspect of their consumer.
Qualitative research, which sets out to understand consumer behavior, still adopts the age old tried and tested techniques… interactions with consumers, either one to one or in focus groups.
Ethnography, a newer method of observation, which involves spending time with the consumer to study their behavior from up close, has also caught the fancy of many.
However, to quote Heisenberg, you cannot observe something without affecting it.
The moment your respondent is aware that they are being observed, their behavior changes.
Further, you cannot make a consumer take an oath on the stand, to speak the truth and nothing but.
Big Data, provides an unprecedented opportunity for the pioneer in the space, to tap into the personal habits of users.
Yes, while the developed world has almost universal internet penetration, in developing economies it is limited to people who have access to the internet. However, the size of the sample is still significant. And it is growing exponentially.
Here’s how it can make a difference.
If you ask someone if they prefer branded clothing v/s bargain basements, there are many factors that will affect their answers… the image they want to portray to the world, what they want to hide from the world and the fear of standing out as ‘inferior’ to other respondents, will always make them think before answering. In most cases, the answers will fit into the trend set by others in the group or opinion leaders who they feel they should emulate.
Studying them while they’re online, gives you the actual story, as they have gotten rid of their masks, and are just being themselves.
The sites a person visits, what they search for on Google, their likes on Facebook, their online habits, their smartphone usage patterns, everything is being tracked. And once information from multiple sources is merged, the picture it portrays can profile the user as a person, much better than any form of current research.
Yes, it sounds sneaky. But it is completely legal. At least for now.
As with any evolving technology, the lines are not yet drawn. There’s a battle raging, on privacy of user information. The problem is that there are varying definitions of ‘private’ data and these are being exploited by organizations to their benefit.
There will be many upheavals, many ups and downs, before regulation on what can be done and what cannot, will fall into place.
Till then, the first mover in this area, will be able to reap a golden harvest, providing insights that other research organizations can only dream of.
We are at a crossroads of redefining age-old practices of research. It is only a matter of time before the equations in the industry change.
The question is “Who will bell the cat?”