June 2015 –This recent article from Christopher Martin of FlexMR provides a strong argument of why good market research cannot be replaced by Big Data.

The following text presents verbatim excerpts from the article (The Role of Market Research in a Big Data World). The full article may be viewed here.


While marketers are excited by the prospect of being able to access an overwhelming amount of information about not only devices but consumers too, big data comes with a lot of challenges. One of the biggest is the sheer volume and variety of information produced. So, if the world is moving ever faster towards markets dominated by Big Data and the trends they predict, does market research have a place in it? And if so, what is it?

Market research is and will continue to be a powerful tool long into the future. In fact. it is hard to imagine a world without it, and there is a very good reason for that. It is difficult to replace the sheer clarity of insight that well-defined market research can provide. While Big Data and the Internet of Things may be encroaching on the territory of market research, it is impossible to remove it completely.

That is because, in addition to the analytical insights that market research can offer, it also provides something much more difficult to analyse – human behaviour. As a people, we do not always act rationally and our behaviour cannot always be predicted. This has always been the bane of market researchers everywhere. No matter the amount of data, nothing can compare to the insight gained simply from talking to others. This is where the real power, and value, of market research lies in a big data world. It may complement, it may contradict, but it is difficult to dispute the insight gathered from a deep and empathetic understanding of customer opinion.

Even some of the biggest supporters of Big Data acknowledge that to use Big Data, you need Big Analytics. But what does this mean? It means that the wealth of data provided is, in many ways, too much. To be able to understand and interpret it we need tools that are up to the challenge. What is even more difficult is taking those findings and applying them to people.

Big Data can identify trends on a massive scale. It can predict our behaviour on an individual, community or even ubiquitous level. However, the question it cannot yet answer is why. Often we make decisions that do not make sense.

One issue with Big Data is how inaccessible it is to so many businesses. The sheer processing power needed to crunch the numbers is astounding and out of the reach of many businesses. Even when the technology does become widely available, it is likely that the analytical tools used to process the data will be kept tightly under wraps. The challenges of big data provide those who are able to understand it a huge competitive advantage.

Therefore, to compete with numerical data on such a scale, businesses must ensure that their market research is detailed, accurate and relevant. While the largest companies may have access to the most sophisticated analytical technology, market research is a level playing field and one which aids those with the skill to conduct it correctly.

Big Data is here to stay. There is no doubt about that. But this will never replace the power of market research to understand human behaviour. Highly analysed data, combined with rich qualitative insight is still the best way for marketers to understand the subtle nuances of human behaviour.