The “Synergist”: Big Data + Social Science = The Future of MR
By Kevin Lonnie
When I was a young pup starting out in market research, there was an ongoing debate between two industry leaders, Bill Neal and Harry O’Neil. The respectful discussion between the two gentlemen concerned whether market research was more of a science or an art. Mr. Neil argued for the former and Mr. O’Neil for the latter.
I am reminded of those debates when I look at the current landscape and try to put my head around the potential synergy of customer co-creation and Big Data.
Big Data, to me, represents the science (left brain) of MR. There is so much more data than ever before. It’s the role of data scientists to crack the whip and organize all this behavioral and neurological data (the stuff people really do rather than the lies we get from surveys) into tidy organized gestalts.
Yet, at the end of the day, all the data in the world doesn’t get you closer to “why” people are behaving the way they do. It’s OK for customers to be irrational as long as they are “predictably” irrational. As Dr. Dan Ariely has stated, our misguided behaviors are driven by emotions and social cues.
In order to make sense of behavioral data and to tap into the potential of customer innovation, we need to return to the art (right brain) of MR and that falls to the “qualies.”
NOTE: Never use the term “statistical significance” or “confidence intervals” with qualies, unless you enjoy watching facial tics.
Qualies apply social sciences tools from various disciplines (sociology, psychology, etc.) to decipher what is actually triggering customer behavior.
While there has been plenty of press and attention heaped on the emerging role of data scientists (a sexy term for quant jocks), that still only gives us one side of the coin. I would argue that we need someone equally comfortable with qualies. Let’s call this individual, The Synergist, a person as adept at discovering behavioral trends as they are in using social science methods to determine causation.
As corporations reinvent themselves from mass marketing to a “one-to-one” customer-centric focus, the ability to synthesize disparate forms of qual/quant insights into a strategic vision will emerge as the ultimate leadership trait. For the first time, a holistic understanding of customer needs and behavior will be used to drive company strategy.
So 25 years after the Neal vs. O’Neil debates, let me ask the question again, are we a science or an art? Can we conclude that MR needs to integrate both the science and the art of our industry to thrive?
Sometimes the best way to reach a desired destination is not to move systematically forward, but instead leapfrog over your obstacle. The Synergist will finally combine the art and science of MR into one all-inclusive view.
The Synergist won’t settle for a seat at the table; he/she will be sitting at the head of the table.