We have never had so much data at our finger tips. It often feels like almost any fact or figure can be found relatively quickly and easily with a few taps on the keyboard. Contrast this with my days as a graduate trainee in a research agency, and we had a library full of Mintel reports, which was our go to reference point if we needed to know penetration rates or consumer demographics.
And there’s a reason why we now talk about data-mining, because our ability to access data goes beyond what has already been captured and reported on, extending into the capture of new data as well. There are a huge number of rich seams of data out there to be got at much more quickly and easily than the days when research agencies were the only conduit to decent data and insight.
The step change we are seeing in access to research data is having a considerable impact on the industry. It is driving the growth in data analyst positions within clients, and the retraction in many insight teams. It is impacting on the types of companies that are delivering data – sometimes feeling like any person with internet access is now claiming to be a research provider! But most of all, it is impacting on our view of research.
As you might expect of a specialist insight agency, we believe there needs to be much greater consideration of the spectrum of research data out there. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not here to dismiss particular types of data, or claim the only way is the research agency way. But it is hugely important that businesses recognise a data spectrum exists, and have the understanding and systems available to make sure they are using the right data to make the right decisions for the health and growth of their business.
In a world where budgets are under pressure it is all to easy to default to the cheapest – but as we all know in our everyday lives as consumers, you get what you pay for. You may well save money on sourcing the data, but if it leads to a costly mistake because the data wasn’t fit for purpose then where’s the saving now?
Perhaps the biggest error is when clients mistake data for insight:
• Data = facts, figures, information
• Insight = the implications, the so what or the now what
It takes skilled professionals to identify the story in the data and relate it to the business issues in order to deliver insight. And there are times when it is of real importance that an objective perspective is applied. In our area of specialism, shopping insight, the objective voce of a research agency can make the difference when using insights to drive discussions with your customers. Objectivity can bring the shopper voice into the discussions, which is far more persuasive than the brand voice that can be treated with such disdain by some retailers.
So, next time you are looking for data to support or resolve a business issue, don’t assume the answer is at your finger tips. Take a look at what insights, rather than data will bring to the table.