Excerpts from ARF CEO & President Scott McDonald’s Forbes article on the voice of the customer
Market research used to rely primarily upon asking questions. The tools of the trade were surveys, in-depth interviews, focus groups, and some observational techniques derived from academic ethnographies. The best research practitioners refined their questions through experimentation to improve accuracy and reduce potential biases.
This began to change over the past two decades with the growth of digital marketing, with more emphasis placed on the analysis of digital footprints and with an increased focus on extracting insights from passively-collected behavioral data.
The accumulation, brokering and analysis of these “Big Data” has become one of the hottest growth areas across multiple industry sectors. For college graduates entering the workforce there is hardly a more promising field to enter than the burgeoning growth area of data analytics. At the Advertising Research Foundation, one of the most frequently asked questions I hear from companies is about the best ways of hiring and organizing to make optimal use of these diverse and relatively new data streams and the best practices for harmonizing the newer data analytics functions with the more traditional customer insights functions. Businesses appear to be enthralled – but also intimidated by – the explosive growth of passively-collected behavioral data.
Departments that once were called “Market Research” or “Insights” and that asked customers direct questions have often been squeezed by, subsumed under or subordinated to departments called “Data Analytics” that eschew the asking of direct questions. The ethics of passive data collection aside, we seem to have convinced ourselves that behavioral data are inherently superior to data derived from asking direct questions. This deserves reconsideration.
This is not to dismiss the insights that can come from algorithm-driven pattern recognition and predictive analytics applied to Big Data. This remains an exciting area of development in all types of research. But marketers need good integration of all data streams to get to the key insights.
Research and insights departments have prided themselves on telling the inconvenient truth to misguided internal teams who advocate for a new product, a new ad campaign or a new strategy that turns off consumers. When companies diminish the role of these departments in favor of shiny new analytic toys, they may be turning a deaf ear to the plaintive voices of customers and prospects. Consumers have voices and they are willing to speak to us if we will only continue to ask them questions. Those voices still need to be heard.
Forbes.com “The Voice of the Customer Still Matters” 5/29/18