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Big Data: We’ve Only Just Begun

Posted by Jonah Lundberg

Wed, Sep 24, 2014

big data, chadwick martin baileyData has existed in the modern business world for a long time (think manila folders in file cabinets in every office on every floor). Digitized data has been around for a while now, too (think virtual folders in hard drives connected to seemingly bottomless computer networks). So why, in just the past few years, have all of us become so excited about and actually engaged in data? We even decided to give it a new name—“big” data. Where did all this excitement come from? Why is it happening? If you asked Tom Breur, Cengage Learning’s VP of Analytics who spoke about big data at NEMRA’s Spring into Action event earlier this year, he would tell you that it’s because there has been a recent surge in data volume (mostly thanks to the emergence of machine-generated data and machine-to-machine communication). This surge led to an ever-expanding data surplus—a surplus that would not have had a home if it weren’t for subsequent innovations in the type of software that manages huge amounts of data and the innovations that led to much more efficient data warehousing capabilities.Initially, large companies were the only ones who had any sort of big data capability (credit scores and fraud protection are two early examples), and until recently these companies were the only ones to leverage those capabilities to play the big data game when it came to predicting their customers’ behavior. But in their July-August issue, Inc. Magazine featured an article detailing how smaller companies are now allowed to play as well, thanks to decreasing technology costs and increasing user-friendliness of big data software.

All of this begs the question: will companies, big and small, no longer need market researchers? After all, big data solutions allow companies to learn about their customers and make more informed business decisions, and let’s not forget that the newest big data solutions are so user-friendly that companies can do all the consumer insights themselves. However, I don’t think market researchers will be replaced anytime soon. Big data may be able to tell you the “what,” but it can’t tell you the “why.”

Enter the story of the widely-covered 2013 Google Flu Trends “Epidemic.” By running algorithms based on flu-related Google searches and searchers’ locations, Google Flu Trends had been historically accurate in predicting how much of the U.S. population had the flu. However, in 2013, it inaccurately predicted the number. In fact, it predicted twice the number reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention! How did this happen? The widespread media coverage of the severe flu season in the U.S. spread like a virus throughout social media, which led to an increase in flu-related Google searches. Many of these searches were from people who thought they might have the flu—“I’m sniffling! I’m sneezing!”—but didn’t. Since Google Flu Trends didn’t consider the context and wasn’t able to ask Googlers why they were Googling flu-like symptoms, it thought 11% of the U.S. population had the flu when the actual number was closer to 6%.

Mark Hansen of Columbia University summed it up best when he said, “Data is not a magic force in society; it’s an extension of us.” Can you believe it? Big data is actually quite human. It tells a story about people because it comes from people, and it’s simply a new medium through which people are telling stories about themselves. It’s like collaborative storytelling. Remember those stories that your teachers would have you start and then make other kids add to? It’s similar, but with a simple twist: big data is collaborative non-fiction. But the authors are still people, which brings it back to market researchers. As market researchers, we not only ask people questions about how they feel or what they do, but we also ask why. We’re able to apply the context that, as evidenced by the Google Flu Trends Epidemic, big data is not able to accomplish alone.

Even though we’re not being replaced, we still have to adapt. For example, there is a great opportunity in synthesizing what we do with the data our research partners have in-house. By combining our knowledge of the “why” with a research partner’s “what,” we can identify the error in what would have otherwise been our research partner’s version of the Google Flu Trends Epidemic if they had not been appropriately focused on why the data looked the way it did. For a company attempting to adjust its product offerings, this could be the difference between abandoning its most loyal customers and maintaining those loyal customers by keeping them happy, all while successfully gaining new customers in the process.

The number of success stories that result from combining the best of both worlds—the what and the why—seems to be ever-expanding. Here at CMB, we have had the pleasure of co-authoring a few of those success stories. For market research, big data is a good thing and worth adapting for. Company by company, the market research industry should adapt in order to set itself up not only for survival, but also for leadership in the next century of consumer insights so we can continue to play the role of co-author in a story that has only just begun.

Jonah is a Senior Associate Research at CMB. He enjoys traveling with his friends and family, and he can't wait for the hockey season to start up again.

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Topics: data collection, technology solutions, big data

Mixing Up the Perfect Summer Innovation Cocktail

Posted by Simon Peters

Wed, Jun 18, 2014

innovation, innovation cocktail, insights, big dataRecently, I attended the CASRO Technology & Innovation Event in Chicago and came away with a fantastic cocktail recipe.  But this isn’t a recipe for an exotic mixed drink or even a unique twist on a classic G&T.  It’s a recipe for innovation, and it’s made with ingredients we all need to have in our organizational “bar”:Ingredients needed:

1 part Big Data

3 parts insights

2 parts socialization

Step 1:  Start with a healthy dash of Big Data. While Big Data can give us a whole lot of “so what?” and “who cares?” information, it’s also a tremendously powerful tool.  In case you’re thinking it’s a fad, think about the growth of wearables and virtual immersive technologies—both are growing industries based around Big Data. While a deluge of information can create a challenge, there’s also a major opportunity for companies who can parse, integrate, and leverage it. For those of us working with Big Data, the focus has to be on depth rather than on breadth. Gary Vaynerchuk (@garyvee), author of Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook and guest speaker at the CASRO event, noted that we already have the ability to do this with data from social media.  We should be leveraging the massive amounts of free data already available to us via social media sites—like Facebook and Pinterest—to help us better understand customers at a personal level and engage them even more directly over the same social media sites.

Step 2: Mix in a healthy dose of those meaningful, relevant, and contextual insights. And I’m talking the good stuff—insights that are deep, accurate, and actionable. The kind that pair with recommendations and address real challenges.

Step 3:  Fill the rest of the glass with a heady mix of socialization and distribution. At the CASRO event, I had the opportunity to see and hear about a lot of great technologies for mining and connecting data as well as for distributing results.  Two themes emerged: 1) the importance of socializing your insights and 2) the importance of getting your insights into the hands of the decision makers. One of the easiest and most effective ways to deliver this is via online dashboards. David Mazva, from Infotools, spoke about the journey his company had with a global client and the advancements they had to make in their dashboards to meet this client’s evolving needs.  He specifically noted that people and companies are spending less time analyzing and more time acting on the data, which is something we at CMB have been focusing on for the past decade and is now more important than ever. It’s why we’ve spent a great deal of time developing dashboards that merge the strategic with the tactical.

As head of our Technology Solutions team, I’m the first to shout that dashboards are great—especially our dashboards—but I know they have more of an impact when delivered over the right medium.  Increasingly, this medium is becoming the mobile device. Convenience is no longer just nice to have–it’s a must-have.  We see this playing out now as we design for mobile first since respondents are taking more surveys on their mobile devices today than ever before.  Let’s take this one more step.

Now, you have insights on a dashboard and delivered to you on a mobile device, which enables you to make business decisions faster.  Why not squeeze additional value out of these insights by putting it out on your social networks?  And once it’s on social media, see what connections are out there to drive new insights and opportunities.  There are free tools, like NodeXL, which can map hubs, bridges, groups, and peripheries of a socially connected network.

Step 4: Stir vigorously until innovation is part of your long-term strategy. Jon Puleston, VP of Innovation at Lightspeed GMI, gave a great presentation on companies that have thrived from innovation.  He spoke about GE, Amazon, and others all having a very similar approach to delivering growth through innovation.  These companies all actively search and plan for innovation.  They integrate it into their long-term financial models, which allows them to react quickly to great ideas versus waiting for funding to become available.

The takeaway? If you’re looking to innovate, you’re going to need more than creativity served neat—you’ve got to have the right ingredients mixed just the right way.

Simon leads CMB’s Technology Solutions team. In between developing dynamic and engaging dashboards, he occasionally enjoys a real cocktail.

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Topics: technology solutions, big data, conference recap, growth and innovation

Hold the Phones: Chat as an Alternative to 1-800 Helplines?

Posted by Jessica Chavez

Mon, Sep 26, 2011

1-800 beauty hotlines

I recently read Mike Albo’s piece in W Magazine about beauty hotlines where operators are standing by to answer questions and deal with “emergencies,” like accidentally using an antiperspirant cream as a hand lotion.  This got me wondering , in a 24/7 online world filled with IMs and chats, are most beauty companies still relying only on 1-800 numbers to answer their customers’ questions and concerns?Curious as to whether beauty companies offered a customer service chat option, I did an impromptu investigation of 10 product websites based on products I have in my bathroom.  Most products are from well-known, deep-pocket companies (e.g. Neutrogena and L'Oreal).  A few were organic-type products produced by smaller companies (like Earth Science Naturals). I was surprised to find none of the product websites I visited offered live chat with a representative.  Not one.  If chat was available, I couldn’t find it anywhere on the sites I looked at, and I searched.  Usually, all I could find were the 1-800 hotlines from the back of the product itself. 

As a marketer I acknowledge there are some definite pluses to beauty hotlines, they are great for building customer relationships. As a market researcher I see other benefits too: the calls are recorded, and companies get the pulse of the customer, potentially driving further research on hot topics.  It's essentially free qualitative research that comes to them.  But the world has changed from a decade ago, customers expect answers now and limiting feedback to phone calls could keep companies from getting the most accurate information. Also, there are a couple of problems with limiting interactions to 1-800 numbers.

  • First, these hotlines are usually available during office hours: Monday to Friday 9-5. These are the prime hours counted against cell phone minutes (800 numbers still count as minutes used).  Plus they’re closed nights and weekends, the time that most cell plans offer free calling.  With fewer and fewer people owning landlines; companies must consider that their toll free numbers aren’t free for most.  And hey, people work too!

  • Second, if you can’t, or don’t want to call during hotline hours, there’s usually an email option. The rise of IM can make even email feel like a pain in the neck. And sometimes an email answer generates more questions.  Sometimes you need a little back-and-forth to get to the root of your question.  People want reassurance: a real live person to answer questions and hash it out with you until you get the information you need. 

There’s a huge opportunity here folks. I’m talking to you, Bath and Beauty Products Industry.  With the implementation of website chat functionality, just think how much easier data collection could be.  Think how you could be getting more contact with a wider variety of people with a wider variety of questions. Think of the potential increase in customer satisfaction by offering another option for contact, and the chance to drive future strategy.  Think of the “Cool Technology” factor and who might be inclined to use it. 

As both a researcher and a consumer of beauty products, this seems like a no-brainer.  What do you think?

Posted by Jessica McClelland.  Jessica is a senior associate researcher at CMB who does her best thinking and magazine reading while exercising.

 

Topics: data collection, technology solutions, customer experience and loyalty, retail research

Not Your Average Customer Experience

Posted by Stephanie Kimball

Wed, Jul 20, 2011

Here at CMB we do quite a bit of work around customer satisfaction programs. In fact, we recently released a CMB Consumer Pulse on the topic. It’s one of my favorite topics because it’s so easy to relate to as a consumer and as a marketer I have a real appreciation for those “stand out” experiences.

U  2011 Blog My Blog Posts Not your Average Customer Experience Not Youre Average Customer Experience visualAfter a long weekend basking in the Nantucket sun, a few friends and I decided to take a break from the Cape Cod traffic and stop for some dinner at Not Your Average Joes. After a delicious meal and way too much bread and oil dip, we asked for the check. To our surprise, not only did we receive the check, but it was given to us on a miniature cutting board with an iPod touch attached to it! No, we didn’t win a prize for best customers, (although if such a prize existed, it definitely would have been ours) but what we did receive was a survey via iPod touch. Instantly, all of our attention was switched over from the bill to the survey (good job Joe’s!). As we huddled around the iPod touch and went through the ten question survey together, it was amazing how much we were all enjoying the experience, dare I say even having fun with it. We are all used to seeing surveys in our daily life, but for some reason seeing one so conveniently displayed to us on an iPod touch-embellished cutting board was somehow more exciting.

Think of how many times you receive a survey at the bottom of a receipt, and if you’re like me, more times than not that receipt never makes it out of my pocket or purse. This survey experience was so different. It got me thinking how having a great customer experience from beginning to end is so important.  Not only did we have a great meal, but we finished the meal having a positive interaction with the brand while completing a survey…crazy right?! 

Not Your Average Joe's rolled this Survey on the Spot system out to all of its stores in January 2011 and since then, in the words of their CEO “it has changed the way we do business”. In an interview with Stephen Silverstein, CEO of Not Your Average Joe's, he mentioned their success:  "We're probably getting about 400 surveys per week per store on this system,” and "About a third of the people taking the survey join the e-mail club, the surveys have helped us be more aware of every single table, in every single restaurant”.

With all the technology available today,it is refreshing to see a restaurant that is utilizing it in new creative ways and, in turn, helping their brand look more appealing. I left thinking that Not Your Average Joe’s was a smart, savvy, cutting edge restaurant that I wanted to spread the word about. And what’s better than some good ol' word of mouth? Not Your Average Joe’s has embraced technology and gained a few more customers along the way…including me!

 

M  yy  Sales and Marketing   Marketing Team Use Web site Images Customer Satisfaction smallOur Consumer Pulse study: Customer Satisfaction Programs: The opportunity to engage, interact and improve takes a closer look at Download here.

Posted by Stephanie Kimball. Stephanie is CMB’s Marketing Operations Manager and loves any and all sports, the beach, traveling, marketing, being challenged, good food, nightlife, and Saturday afternoon naps. You can follow her on twitter @SKBalls

Topics: technology solutions, Consumer Pulse, customer experience and loyalty