By Keri Vermaak
Like a group of cars speeding down a racetrack, data is coming at us faster and more frequently than ever before. If all that data took the form of, say, an Indy Car, then it would be easy to match up the “cars” in a cohesive format. But today, the data we’re dealing with is a truly mixed bag—from Formula One to a demolition derby, and from an Indy Car to an off-road buggy. Putting these cars together in a single competition would be a joke.
And yet, we are asked to marry together data that is even more of a mixed bag than all these types of vehicles. The data isn’t slowing down to let us figure out how to manage the race, either. So why do we care? More and more, market research as a discipline is being asked to justify its existence. There’s pressure from every angle to prove tangible ROI and value from the ground up—and one way to do this is to effectively combine all the data racing toward us and channel it into usable, valuable business insights. The more data we have that is informing outcomes, the more accurate a picture we can give our clients of their customer, product or other important influencers in their success.
We Have the Tools
As an industry that has been traditionally slow to change, we are finally moving quickly toward the adoption of new technologies. We have an increasing number of technology-based tools at our disposal that do everything from recruiting survey participants through social media ads, all the way to custom, interactive data visualization dashboards.
Perhaps one of the biggest issues is that all these functions are often isolated from one another. We may not see this right away, because sometimes the broken links are hidden by workarounds—by people or systems—that help compensate for inefficiencies at the front end. These “workarounds” can leave us with outcomes that are broken, incomplete, or downright inaccurate.
A good place to start addressing these inefficiencies is by looking at the data integration stage. Systems that can take in many forms of data can help us achieve some level of symbiosis with the information we have available. This carries through to the “value” stage with new methods of visualizing this combined data on the insights end. There are yet other innovations that allow researchers to graph and present data in a manner that is proportioned to best see relationships and provide substantive outcomes. To succeed, we need to find a complete solution that will:
- Bring the data pieces together in the first place, so they can work together to provide knowledge, information and insights
- Layer data in a way that shows relationships, makes sense and is accessible to all stakeholders
- Manage the entire process in one place—from the importing of data all the way through to utilizing that data for reports
- Help prove value and ROI to clients and stakeholders
Is True Data Integration Even Possible?
Even with the tools we now have available, the task of data integration is still a work in progress. Integrating pieces like diversified databases, software, equipment, and personnel into a smoothly functioning alliance, free of the persistent headaches that have characterized our industry for decades, may still seem insurmountable. But I do believe we are headed in the right direction as an industry, even if we aren’t quite there yet.
Part of the problem we face is that the tools we do have aren’t working together or doing the right kind of work. Another part of it is the people involved in the process are in an “it’s not my job” deadlock when it comes to analyzing the data. A recent report from customer analytics company, BlueVenn, said that although a significant percentage of marketers are confident that they have the skills to analyze data, almost two-thirds of them don’t believe it is their role to do so. Until this mindset shifts, innovations like automation, machine learning, text analytics and more can help us get a little closer to the outcomes we desire.
These outcomes are poised to give us more knowledge than ever before. Gone are the days when the answers to a standalone survey could advise our business decisions. The BlueVenn report also said that 86% of marketers believe that for maximum success they need to collect as much information as possible on their customers. We need all this data to come together to form a complete view of customer needs, so we are going to have to find ways to drive it all down the same race track.
Let’s Keep Making Sequels
Will they ever stop making more Fast and Furious movies? I think we’re on number seven or eight by now. Although I’m not a fan, this is one of the top grossing movie franchises of all time. Instead of giving up after round one, producers decided to keep it going over and over. Are they getting better each time? I’ll leave that to the movie critics.
In our space, we do have the opportunity to keep trying again. Every year, leaders in the industry are finding ways to disrupt the status quo using technology and innovations so that we can reach a common goal: trusted insights based on real data from every source possible. By bolstering our processes we can start working from the ground up to prove value, and we’ll make it to that checkered flag.