Big data is one of the newest buzzwords to captivate brands and agencies attempting to infuse their marketing campaigns and innovation strategies with fresh insights. But as with most buzzwords, the concept behind them isn’t new. Big data has been around for over a decade. But the influx of venture capital and subsequent startups in the MarTech and AdTech spaces harnessing big data is starting to reach a fever pitch.Will traditional market research firms be pushed out or can yet another existential crisis force us to ask ourselves “how do we stay relevant?”

Don’t pick a fight with the big data giants, learn from them

Interestingly, the answer lies by examining some of the largest data companies in the world – Facebook and Google. One may ask, isn’t Facebook a social network? Isn’t Google a search engine? Yes… and well, yes. But their underlying business model and what drives real value and dollars is the massive amounts of data they collect. And all the products built on top of their data infrastructure are aimed at giving us a richer user experience while allowing advertisers to target us more precisely.

Facebook and Google are the biggest “big data” companies on the playground. Facebook processes over 500 TB of data every day and Google is now close to processing 200 PB of data every day, yet they are still asking traditional survey questions of their users. But why?

Sure, you could thumb your nose and taunt, “if you have so much data, shouldn’t you already have a 360-degree understanding of your users?” But here’s a better idea. To understand why Facebook and Google are still relying on traditional market research surveys, let’s look at what type of questions they are asking.

Facebook

Ever seen these questions in your news feed: “Was this ad relevant to you?” or “Are you interested in this story?” Market researcher or not, you’ve wondered why the heck they’re asking you that. I mean, they’ll know if it is relevant or if I am interested in the story if I click on it, right? Well, yes and no.

The Facebook algorithm has become extremely advanced and can feed you and millions (now billions) of users a perfectly curated feed…kind of. Just because we click on something doesn’t mean it is the “best” thing to appear in our feed. Take me for example. If Facebook relied solely on what I clicked on, my feed would be a constant barrage of avocado memes and cool woodworking videos (don’t judge me!).

Facebook knows that just giving you what you click on doesn’t mean you’ll continue to visit the site. There is such thing as too much of a good thing. The perfect algorithm would feed you things you didn’t even know you wanted and that’s where the traditional market research comes in. We don’t know what we don’t know, and Facebook has figured out the only way to know that is to ask. Believe it or not, Facebook even has a team of 30 people in Knoxville who get to browse Facebook and get paid for it in Knoxville by surfing a special version of Facebook that asks for their feedback to improve their algorithm (hope that wasn’t a secret).

Google

Google has taken traditional market research a step further with their Google Surveys product and panels. They have a mobile app and opt-in panel of Google users that can unlock premium content and get Google points to use at the Google Store in exchange for answering questions. However, the end goal is similar to Facebook’s market research strategy: drill down to why people click on certain links to gauge its relevance.

Google even has a Google Guides community that augments their quest to map the entire world by asking a select group of user’s questions about restaurants, malls, and any public or private place specific questions about the experience such as “is this restaurant kid friendly?”, “is this park wheelchair accessible,” and “would you consider this a trendy crowd?”. These are all questions that even the largest holder of big data can’t answer.

Three things we can learn from Facebook and Google’s traditional market research strategies

  1. The fact that Facebook and Google are both investing heavily in market research should calm any fears of the demise of the market research industry. Market research isn’t going away anytime soon. The fact that the largest contributors to big data are still using it should be a testament to that.
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  3. Market research enriches big data sets. Big data is limited to specific actions taken. What someone purchased, where someone went, what link someone clicked on, what the weather was like when they bought ice cream, etc. But it will never give us the why (well as long as Elon Musk’s idea doesn’t become a reality) behind these actions. And as big data becomes more widely adopted among more companies in a marketing capacity, it may even lead to a renaissance of market research to make sense of all the big data being collected and analyzed.
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  5. While big data is not going to replace market research anytime soon, your firm should start thinking about how to play nicely with big data. Big data is here to stay. It is important for you to look at your value proposition and see how it can integrate with it. The possibilities are endless. Preparation and planning is essential to staying relevant and developing a potential new revenue stream for your company.