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Does big data mean market research is dead?

When big data finally becomes a reality, does that mean market research will become surplus to requirements? Will surveys, focus groups and interviews become relics of a bygone age?

Some would say so. 

 They argue that we already have the answers to most questions at our fingertips. They’re sitting in our servers and on the web. All we need to do is mine the data to reveal the insight. That being the case, why bother asking customers themselves, especially as what people say they do, doesn’t always match what they actually do?

They’ve got a point. There’s no doubt big data has huge potential to reveal hidden insights. But it’s a complement to, not replacement for, market research.

Mining big data can reveal patterns in how customers behave now and in the future. But it can’t reveal everything. 

Firstly, there’s a practical consideration – big data isn’t always available or doesn’t always relate to the issue of interest. 

 Secondly, big data tells us what, but not usually why. If we are to influence customer behaviour then we need to know their decision-making processes and motivations. 

Thirdly, big data can’t reveal how people think and feel. If we’re to understand more abstract issues like branding or barriers to change then we need to explore emotions and perceptions. These live in the mind, not on a database. 

 And fourth, big data can’t fully explore hypothetical situations. For example, what untapped needs are there in the market? What do customers think about new product concepts? How persuasive are different potential marketing messages?

So it’s not a dichotomy. Big data and market research are complementary to each other. They’re both ways of gaining insights and we should blend the two to create a holistic view.