I was inspired to write this by a recent quote from Stan Sthanunathan, senior VP-consumer and market insights at Unilever. Inside the article there was a lot of solid, sensible stuff. It was especially great to hear that Unilever is not resting on its laurels when it comes to finding new ways to create better understanding of their marketplace (maybe they should check out this!). But what inspired me to write was the fact that Mr. Sthanunathan felt that this message would be news to his audience (largely research companies and providers). And then I thought about it, and reflected on what I see from typical research providers, and realized he was right, and wrong. The statement that data is a commodity is one I wholeheartedly endorse: but the idea that analytics is the salvation of the industry I dispute. While I am sure that Mr Sthanunathan understands the difference, I am concerned that many in the industry do not, and are mistaking data analytics for insights.
Data is already a commodity
Data can be bought and sold by anyone who has a budget. There used to be a time that data gave advantage because it was expensive, and so only the few could really afford to buy data in significant quantities. While this is still true to some extent, the reality is that data collection gets cheaper and cheaper by the day, and the main reason for not gathering it is a lack of inspiration rather than budget. Data on its own has limited impact, but in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king: data used to differentiate. In a world where most people have data, something more will be required to differentiate.
Data analytics will rapidly become a commodity too
So what of data analytics, the so-called salvation of research and the key to unlocking the power of big data? Certainly, more data which isn’t being analyzed is very low value indeed. Certainly, as data quantities expand massively, new techniques are required to analyze it. Increasingly, automated techniques are required to pull data apart and put it together again, rapidly. The market will soon demand, and begin to receive, real time data (I’ve just been working on a project with a research provider where data processing takes seven weeks after the field work has finished – welcome to obsolescence guys!) So is that it?
Probably not. I predict data analytics systems will rapidly become cheaper and more accessible: real time data will be something that appears on an executive’s desk by the minute or hour in the same way that email does today. Data analytics will not differentiate for long.
Insights are still rare
So are we doomed to a zero-sum game where everything cancels everything else out – where everyone knows basically the same thing? Fortunately no, because there are those little, wondrous things called insights. Data analytics often masquerade as insights, and sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. But once you have seen a brilliant, burning, wow-inspiring insight, you’ll never make that mistake again. Insights are rare, insights transform, and so far in my experience, insights still require human beings. Yes analytics can take a lot of the blood and sweat out of crunching data – a step which, as big data becomes more and more prevalent, is becoming a necessity rather than a luxury. But it still seems to require the human touch to tempt insights out of data.
Don’t get me wrong: technology is transforming the way research is conducted, and the way data is managed. But all of this will drive efficiency more than effectiveness in marketing activities. Smart marketers will recognize that all of that efficiency saving needs to be driven into allowing time and resource for insights, rather than propping up the bottom line. At engage, we’re working on two research solutions ourselves which will transform data and analytic provision pace: but with a human-based insight delivery system which creates better, faster and cheaper research and insights into shopper behavior. For more details on our insights approach, or our new insight solutions, please contact me.