Certainly, no conversation among insights professionals would be complete without talking about Big Data. And our June 7 Client Symposium in NYC was no exception. As backdrop to our discussion about Big Data, we shared findings from the Cambiar/BCG study:

  • About half the time, Big Data and CI (Consumer Insights) report up through the same channel within the organization
  • More resources are currently allocated to CI – more people and more budget; especially within CPG companies
  • To date, organizations report greater satisfaction with the CI department than with Big Data

Sounds like a rosy picture for the CI professional, right? Our attendees didn’t necessarily see it that way. Not one person among our 19 attendees currently manages, or even has real visibility into the Big Data efforts within their companies. We all agree it can’t stay that way, as almost everyone expressed some level of concern about the disconnect.

Integrating CI and Big Data

The most hopeful believe they will maintain their role as the “consultants” to their businesses, and future MR departments will include data scientists and analysts supplying the Big Data. They see a world where traditional CI will be responsible for pulling multiple data sources together to drive insights for the organization. For a few, that would be a continuation of their current work trying to marry survey research (attitudes) with analytics (behavior). One B2B attendee is combining survey-based segmentation work with Big Data analytics to predict customer attrition.

However, some Symposium attendees were not so optimistic and expressed concern about the impact of Big Data on traditional CI work. As one leader deftly put it, “Understanding the common thinking that Big Data provides the what and more traditional primary research provides the why, will the why still matter if the what, where, and when can be delivered almost instantaneously allowing for immediate reaction and perhaps stronger business results?”

Lessons from Social Media

One final consideration that some offer to temper the feeling that CI is already late to the Big Data game is the lesson learned from social media. Several years ago, nothing was hotter or more talked about than integrating social media into CI. And while some around the table are doing so (though even they say it is only one piece of the puzzle), many are still challenged on how to weave it in and say it is hard to make sense of it in a meaningful way. Based on the conversation, it seems the most practical way to leverage social media data is to use it to help provide background, or “a lay of the land”. Ignoring it completely, however, as one individual learned, is not a good idea. In this case, the social media data reached the C-Suite first and then the CI leader was put on the defensive and challenged as to why his primary research didn’t match the social media data. Definitely not a good place to be.

Probably the best advice came from our Cambiar facilitators who suggested CI leaders would be best served and positioned for the future by proactively looking into applications for data fusion or, at the very least, forging ties with the Big Data constituencies within their respective companies.

Recruiting MR Talent: Not Your Father’s Research Department

No surprise that with the increasing expectations of a CI department (integrating social media, Big Data and other data streams, doing more with less – always) the need for top talent is also growing. However, CI talent is not necessarily measured the way “it used to be”. Among this group, they are generally not looking for traditional market researchers or survey research experts. Rather, they are looking more broadly – as is also suggested by the Cambiar/BCG study – for people that demonstrate entrepreneurial thinking, horizontal collaboration, the ability to synthesize information, and generally, the ability to contribute to innovation.

Some specific comments on what these managers look for when filling roles within their teams were:

  • Creative research managers, someone who can package insights in a compelling way.
  • People with a passion for market research and especially the broader insights function. If they don’t have the passion, they tend to move on from the job quickly which is unproductive.
  • Someone who may not have the traditional MR experience, but who can jump in quickly and learn on the job.
  • Consultative skills more so than traditional MR skills.

Most feel they and their departments have risen to the challenge and are operating at higher levels and providing more value to their organizations than 5-6 years ago. This, incidentally, agrees exactly with the findings of the Cambiar/BCG study when comparing perceptions of the CI function in 2009 and again in 2015. Much improved, and confident that we can rise to future challenges!