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Learnings From CASRO: The Transformation of Marketing Research

A fundamental shift is occurring wherein marketing research is embedded in the process of the Big Data marketing machines and not a separate activity.

man to machine

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A dozen years ago, while working for Nielsen, I had the good fortune to work on the development of a service with YAHOO! Inc. that helped improve ad targeting on its main website. This was a very successful early Big Data research service that used purchase panel data in conjunction with YAHOO! surfing behavior.  The surfing activity of a group defined from Nielsen’s purchase data was then scored against all YAHOO! visitors to improve ad placement on the site. Additionally, Nielsen offered a test and control approach to assess the ROI of the campaign. This was an innovative research service that provided inputs that made marketing activities more efficient.

Yesterday I attended a notable presentation, Extract the True Value of Research with Big Data and Machine Learning, at the 2014 CASRO annual conference. Presented by Doug Miller (Vice President of Analytics at Rock Fuel, Inc.), he illustrated well for me the current state of the art in Big Data and the changes that it will bring to the market research function. The impressive advances on both the media buying side, via the development of programmatic buying, and the ad placement side, with increasingly complex and comprehensive techniques that constantly update and refine ad targeting models, have pushed us close to the ultimate goal of one-to-one marketing. A fundamental shift has occurred here, marketing research in these Big Data marketing machines is embedded in the process and not a separate activity. That said, you have research that helps refine and improve the effectiveness of the advertising as we had in the Nielsen example, but now it is conducted as an integral, real-time component of the marketing activity.

Marketing research has long held a position as an independent auditor with a mission to seek out the consumer truths.  Marketing agencies that did their own research were regarded as ‘foxes guarding the henhouse.’  In the fast paced world of Big Data, there may not be a place for an independent market research function — I wonder if the MR fraternity will embrace these new marketing agencies or ignore them? We need to acknowledge that the future definition of MR firms will be blurred and the ultimate goal of our industry should be to ensure the automated research processes used in many Big Data applications adhere to the MR Code of Ethics.

Media targeting and ROI analysis will become a fully integrated part of the marketing agency function, rather than an activity performed by researchers.  The watchdog will be the role of the corporate MR staff rather than an independent MR agency.  We can embrace this as a positive development for the MR function in general. By viewing this like a production line that has been sped up to increase efficiency, companies will soon realize that if mistakes are made a lot of product can be wasted, if no one is watching. The future MR professional will be part data scientist, part quality control manager.

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2 Responses to “Learnings From CASRO: The Transformation of Marketing Research”

  1. Michael Louca says:

    October 8th, 2014 at 11:17 pm

    Really smart, and provocative; I appreciate the tone of article. The following sentence/part is quite important and has some real validity from my perspective: “marketing research in these Big Data marketing machines is embedded in the process and not a separate activity.”

    End clients are often data source agnostic, and don’t want to 70 sources of truth. Need to integrate findings with what “Analytics”,”Big Data” are communicating. Doing so effectively, will ensure that research is best utilized.

    At some point, I see MRX being a huge benefit to “Big Data”, by filling in important gaps, and missing pieces from datasets/databases that are already predefined, or very time consuming and expensive to manipulate.

    “We need to acknowledge that the future definition of MR firms will be blurred and the ultimate goal of our industry should be to ensure the automated research processes used in many Big Data applications adhere to the MR Code of Ethics.”: The call to action is pretty courageous, and will be resisted, but it feels like its the most realistic way to move the MRX field forward, and not be “left out”. However, its probably not all under the control of MRX practitioners, and may take time for it happen.

    I would bet internal groups on the Client side will also start putting in all together, and have more hybrid analytical/research groups. Don’t think its ominous to the profession, and will ultimately be a very good thing.

  2. Beth Uyenco says:

    October 15th, 2014 at 1:37 pm

    Frank, really insightful piece you’ve written. I agree with your prediction: “Media targeting and ROI analysis will become a fully integrated part of the marketing agency function, rather than an activity performed by researchers. The watchdog will be the role of the corporate MR staff rather than an independent MR agency.”
    Being a “watchdog” isn’t particularly compelling as a profession. I’d like to believe that researchers’ can also provide value as the people that will provide strategic direction in new data applications that will yield insights and guide future marketing direction– not just enable the more tactical use of “good” data. It’s in strategic research that will allow us to be creative/innovative.

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