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  • Writer's pictureDanielle Pinnington

Big Data – just a part of the story you need

Big data, fast data, however you want to talk about it, is in rapid growth. To give you some perspective: Over the last two years alone 90 percent of the data in the world was generated (article in Forbes) and that was reported in May 2018. Although large data sets have been around in our world for years in the form of household panels and loyalty schemes; it is the more recent opportunity that digital connections offer that has really fired the business imagination, and the desire for more accessible and tailored big data. There are plenty of brand owners and retailers who now have a dashboard that allows staff across the organisation to quickly tap their data sets and easily answer key issues or to spot trends.

There is no doubt this is all very exciting and empowering for brands and retailers alike, and big data undoubtedly has a highly valuable role to play in driving business decisions. But big data isn’t everything, and there’s a considerable risk in relying solely on these sources to deliver the answer to every business question. It is only ‘partim ex historia’.

Big data tells us what shoppers (or consumers) have already done, based on what was available to them at the time within the specific environment. Which means big data can be used to model different scenarios, perhaps sales outcomes under different promotional mechanics, for example. All very valuable, but this too has its limits because big data can only inform you based on what it knows – it can’t predict the outcome of a wholly new idea because it doesn’t have relevant data on which to base the prediction. When big data advocates talk about the future view provided by their data sets, they are only able to talk about forecasting based on what has happened in the past – and we all know the biggest commercial changes are driven by innovation. Bespoke research is needed to address the future possibilities.

The descriptive nature of much big data also means that it can’t tell you why shoppers/consumers are behaving in that way. For example, in the retail sector it won’t provide the details of the context to purchase decisions, the mindset of the shopper/consumer or their attitudes and expectations on any given purchase occasion. Yet these are the places where golden nuggets of insight lie, and in the retail sector, these are the nuggets that help clients stand out amongst a crowd. Bespoke research can fill this knowledge gap.

What’s more, big data is rarely private to individual brands or retailers. Big data providers sell effectively the same data to multiple customers, so brands who walk into a trade meeting with just big data as their evidence are likely to be telling buyers what they already know or what their competitors have already told them. There is an obvious complementary role for bespoke research, building on the big data basics to develop a more tailored story.

Perhaps the real Achilles heel of big data, though, is the fact that it captures behaviour only among shoppers/consumers, and not those who didn’t buy or who don’t use your product or brand. Data based on subscribers or loyalty card users' risks being biased towards those loyal to the brand or retailer, which means the data collected may give an overly optimistic picture. Let’s not forget Tesco have just spent a long-time untangling the problems that were allowed to manifest themselves despite vast amounts of Clubcard data.

So yes, big data has a key role to play in the business decision making processes, it should not be the only tool in the insight toolbox. Bespoke ad hoc research can enhance big data to reveal the nuggets that set one brand or business apart as specialists in their category. Bespoke research can drill into the motivations behind behaviours, giving companies the confidence that they can change behaviour because they haven’t just observed outcomes – they really understand the future potential opportunities they can leverage.

The name says it all – bespoke research is owned by the brand and is genuinely tailored to deliver new news in those trade meetings. As one experienced buyer said after a bespoke presentation: “I didn’t expect to learn anything new about this category, and I’m pretty impressed that I have.”

Danielle Pinnington

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