Opinion: Big Data's Big Mistake

Opinion Big Data's Big MistakeThe following is a guest contributed post to MMW from Malcolm Stewart, CEO of YouEye.

In the early and middle decades of the 20th century, instinct and an understanding of human nature drove marketing and advertising. Consider “Mad Men” – the TV drama about a prestigious 1960s New York ad agency. No real boundaries existed between advertising and marketing, and creativity directed the process.

Quantitative data simply did not exist back then in the way it does today, and that left advertisers/marketers with the tool of qualitative research – speaking to the target market directly. Back then, just as today, qualitative research told brands the why behind a decision to buy a product, choose one brand over another, and more.

So what happened? How did we get to the point where quantitative data has become the darling of data-crunchers and marketers, while qualitative data has fallen by the wayside?

The Big Question

The world has been collecting data for as long as it’s had the means to do so. But never in history have we had the volume we do today. And much of this data growth has occurred since the modern computer was invented – and even as recently as the past couple years.

In fact, one report says more than 90 percent of the world’s data was created within two years. And then came the term, “big data” to explain the experience of all this quantitative, expansive “stuff” we need to make sense of.

Add to that the fact that marketers, ecommerce leaders and product managers seem to have all but forgotten the power of the qualitative data they used to rely on so heavily, and we’re starting to see a tipping point.

This begs the question: Is focusing solely on big data a big mistake?

The Problem of Considering Only Quantitative Data

When big data controls marketing strategy, companies risk treating their customers like numbers – not to mention missing the insight that makes big data spending worthwhile. Right now, marketers all over the globe are so wrapped up in numbers that they are neglecting the human side of data: the “why” behind the figures.

Further, big data is destined to eventually plateau – and we may already be there. You see this happening when looking at something like “standard” conversion rates. The fact that we even have a “standard” rate of anything tends to reflect that marketers, at some point, began to think alike, and campaigns begin to look alike, rarely moving the needle beyond what the numbers will tell them.

Enter qualitative research. To make a real difference – to move the dial beyond “standard” conversion rates or any other conventional figure you’re used to seeing – we need to enact a different approach when it comes to creating and marketing new products and positioning strategies.

You need insight into what customers really want. And to obtain this, you need qualitative data.

Leveraging Both Kinds of Data for a Holistic Picture

Don’t get me wrong: Quantitative research is essential for our product and marketing strategies. Still, qualitative research is the missing link to getting the whole picture. While quantitative data can tell you how many people are abandoning your ecommerce shopping cart, qualitative can tell you why.

Qualitative data can, for example, determine the direction of your A/B tests before you decide to put resources into them. Because the subject of quantitative testing is often rooted in “instinct,” the starting point for A/B tests can be ill-informed even when they have the best intention to be “scientific.”

We worked with a large e-commerce retailer not too long ago to help them discover why they were seeing a 70 percent shopping cart abandonment rate, even after they had a successful website revamp.

Their quantitative research had allowed them to test the various factors of their checkout process to see what made a difference. Yet, they still didn’t have solid answers. Our qualitative research came in and showed the retailer that the reason for abandonment was their discount code process.

In these instances, marketers begin to see the benefits of layering qualitative insights with quantitative data. And now that brands are becoming more interested in creating stories that align with the “language” of their customers, and the journey they take while deciding on a product, service or brand, qualitative research is once again becoming an interesting avenue.

Quantitative + Qualitative: Next Steps

Investing only in big data is not going to take your brand to the top. A layered approach to bringing quantitative and qualitative together is well worth the effort in the coming year for any product or marketing initiative you have planned.

I’ll leave you with a few takeaways:

  1. Real customer insights are absolutely necessary for turning quantitative data into qualitative information. Use qualitative insights to direct the questions of any quantitative study, and use qualitative data to help answer the “why” behind the numbers.
  2. Aim for moving the dial beyond the inch-by-inch growth and optimization we’re used to seeing with pure quantitative-based actions; you might be surprised to see significant returns by looking into customer experiences and journeys from a qualitative standpoint.
  3. Take advantage of the efficient, affordable methods available for obtaining qualitative customer insight. Such systems are designed to keep up with agile marketing and product development. Other tools are out there, in addition to what we at YouEye do,  that can help you gather these insights – SurveyMonkey being one of them.

Finally, don’t make the mistake of getting too wrapped up in big data. The real stories lie in the holistic set of data that’s available to us no matter what type of campaign we’re running or product we’re developing.

Now go forth, and speak to your customers!