Big Data & Market Research – Distant Cousins or Siamese Twins?

November 11, 2013

I recently attended a 2 day Big Data Summit conference in Sydney, run by Innovation Enterprise. From the show of hands, I was one of two market researchers among the 150 strong audience.

There a number of roles and opportunities for market researchers to play in this arena as from the quality and content of the presentations, it is clear Big Data is here stay, can only get ‘bigger’.

The retail, banking, and utilities sectors were well represented (fmcg was conspicuous in its absence) as was the Government sector with the Australian Bureau of Statistics, CSIRO, and the State of Queensland. The attendees’ profile, based on skill sets, was similar to an MR audience for a similar event but with a quantitative bias and an average age around 8-10 years younger.
big data 3 needs

Sportsbet’s Tony Greubner’s succinctly described 8 factors that would drive future of Big Data. His first three, the variety of sources, proscriptive analytics, and increased scope of application are perhaps the most pertinent (with no 6 “Geek is the new cool” being a favourite with the audience). Tony also highlighted three skill sets in short supply (see picture above) and here is where those with solid MR expertise could contribute. Read On..>


The Landscape Of Emotion

February 22, 2012

Measuring emotion is increasingly straightforward – interpreting the results still requires some intellectual subtlety.

Emotion, and the research techniques that measure it, remain hot topics in market research. Many of you will have read of Brainjuicer’s Valentine’s day card to Millward Brown, celebrating the latter’s purported “embracing” of emotion as a key marketing driver. A lot of fun for those of us that are observers of course, but leaving aside the question of whether this unduly caricatures Millward-Brown’s approach to emotional analysis, I detect in the discussion, another caricature: the reduction of ‘emotion’ to something simplistic and monolithic. If only we can measure this emotion stuff, we will ‘have the answer’. Maybe, if we can find the right emotional measurement machine we researchers can all retire?

As some of you know, David and I are working (with nViso SA of Switzerland) with exactly that: an “emotional measurement machine” that directly measures people’s emotional response to stimuli via a method called 3D Facial Imaging. Here’s a chart based on 3D Facial Imaging data – I’ll explain it’s significance later in this post, for the moment just note we can directly measure specific types of emotive response with a standard computer and webcam.

Hills & Valleys in The Landscape of Emotion (See Below for Explanation)

This is, I would argue, much more accurate and granular than any questionnaire based method. Yet, despite being thrilled by the results we are obtaining, I would not argue that we have reached some sort of  “deus ex machinamoment, where researchers and subtle interpretation become redundant.

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Myth.ology and Market Research

January 6, 2011

Tales of the Market Research Monster - Should Clients be Frightened? (Image via Wikipedia)

Our recent post on the “Myth of Market Research’s Failure” attracted a lot of readers, and recently a stern rebuttal (see comments at bottom of the post) from Philip Graves who is the author of a book called “Consumer.ology” (not to be confused with Martin Lindstrom’s similarly titled tome, “buy.ology”). Sub-titled “The Market Research Myth, The Truth about Consumers and the Psychology of Shopping” according to an unnamed reviewer on Mr Graves’ website the book “will send a shiver down the spine of the research industry”. Given that, it is not surprising he did not like our post!

Published last September, I confess I have not yet read his book, but it has got a “top 10” spot in the UK business books list on Amazon, and Philip seems to have been interviewed extensively including by magazines like “Wired” and even “Research Live”. It is then seemingly indicative of the trend towards wholesale lambasting of market research methods that we discussed in our post. The core argument as far as we can see is that surveys address the wrong side of the brain (i.e. miss emotive/intuitive response) and our qualitative methods are subject to bias and group think.

The great thing about this kind of attack is that it draws attention to the need for research to be more serious about providing better quality information to clients. The downside is that they tend to work by creating a “straw man” version of market research, in which out-dated and poor practices are treated as the norm and used as an excuse to belittle the whole industry.

Our view, stated simply, is that it is often perfectly possible to design fairly conventional research that can measure a good deal of underlying emotional or subconscious response and that where that is not possible with traditional methods there are a number of ways many of the “new MR” methods that are emerging can be applied to fill in the gaps. Clients or agencies who are dissatisfied with the quality delivered by their research deliverables should consider what can be done to improve them, rather than giving up on market research entirely. (As a disclaimer, we should mention that Gordon & McCallum provides clients with review and R&D support to improve MR systems and outputs – so we would believe that!)

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In Praise of Procurement

December 9, 2010

I recently viewed a YouTube video where a senior director from a sizeable research agency expressed views on the growing presence of procurement professionals in the selection and purchase of market research services. As might be expected, there were the usual concerns and complaints about the difficulty of communicating quality of thought and creativity of design via the procurement process. This was followed up by the fear that, in the long term, research would become a commodity bought merely on price.

Whilst I can sympathise with the extra administrative process this seems to impose on the agency, I don’t agree that it will lead to a price-driven commodity market. Let’s face it, when we buy things for ourselves, services or products, we only want to pay for what we need and what has value for us. Ideally, we don’t want to pay for superfluous extras or for inefficiencies in the providers’ systems, whether they be features on the Blu-ray player we don’t (can’t) use or paying the banks for the privilege of benefiting from our own money. Read On..>

Continuous Revolution: Building Change Into the Culture of Market Research.

August 16, 2010

Most Market Research professionals like a bit of variety in their working lives. After all, it’s not the ideal career for people who favour predictability and routine.  David and I have enjoyed such variety in bucket-loads (click on the David & Alastair tab above if you’re interested) sometimes because we had no choice (I recall living through seven major changes of company ownership!) but also because at various critical points in our careers we  had the good fortune of having had bosses who were willing to take a few risks on us and invest time and effort in involving us in new areas.

Giving researchers new challenges and introducing them to new ideas, services and methods is a vital factor in developing our industry. It pays large dividends in producing researchers who are more flexible and creative in their approach, and less likely to get bored and change jobs.  There are many ways this could be tackled, but here are three ideas I think are worth pursuing.

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Time To Tune The Engine? 5 Tweaks For Market Research Businesses.

June 5, 2010

There seems to me to be something about market researchers that means we are forever fretting about the “big-stuff” impacting our business: big trends in market research methodology, the value of out-sourcing or the desirability of expanding into new geographies. (I have to confess to having been doing a bit of this myself lately, and if you are interested in my view on major trends here’s a link to my article with Duncan Stuart in May’s Research Magazine) .

Time For A Few Tweaks?

All good things to think about of course, and successful research companies will be constantly evaluating the impact of such issues. However, this shouldn’t blind us to the fact that ours is a business involving a lot of detail, and if you take your eye off the everyday processes that impact your business you will inevitably sacrifice quality and margin.

The Gordon & McCallum experience is that most MR businesses make less money than they should and could often achieve considerably better results with a bit of focus on making “tweaks” to everyday business and research practices. In this post I’m going to suggest 5 “tweaks” to our everyday work that could improve the performance of most research firms.

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NEWS – Gordon & McCallum Link Up With Cambiar

February 9, 2010

A short message to our readers. We don’t usually push our business on this blog, but we think a lot of our colleagues and readers will be interested in this one. We’ve linked up with the leading US research business consultancy, CAMBIAR.  We think it’s good news for clients of both companies as it extends our ability to support clients around the globe and lets us share best practice processes and experience on research transformation, training, geographic expansion and so on.  Read the press release on our website: or contact myself or David if you’d like to know more.

For those anxiously (?) awaiting a more “normal” post from us, Alastair will be putting one up on “Big MR companies and Qualitative Research” within the next 24 hours (or so!).  The second in David’s series on talent recruitment and retention in Asia will come in after that.


Alastair & David.