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Why Big Data, By Itself, Doesn’t Create Big Insights

bigdataIt seems like you can’t go a day without hearing something about big data. Much digital ink has been spilled on all sides of how big data could affect the research industry, from the breathlessly optimistic to the foretelling of the end of the profession.

I am very optimistic.

Here’s why.

It’s easy to see why people get so excited about the prospects for big data in marketing.  If you believe all of the hype, it is very easy to convince yourself that if you only had enough data, the answers to all possible marketing problems are within your reach. The problem is having enough data is a necessary but not a sufficient condition to generating insight.

What else do you need?

Judgment and strategic thinking.

These happen to be things that people are far better at than computers.

Dr. Michael Wu wrote a great piece in TechCrunch about the big data fallacy.  In it, he systematically destroys the notion that a lot of data means a lot of insight. The point he is making is that there is far more data than there is information, and there is far more information than there is insight. Further, he argues that more data and more information don’t necessarily result in more insight.

I think the reason boils down to this:

It is the analyst — not the analysis — that assigns meaning.

That’s because there can’t be any meaning without context.  Context requires a broad understanding of how the data fits into the issue and how the issue fits into the world.

The skills needed to make those connections?

Judgment and strategic thinking.

To me, this means marketers need skilled analysts to work with big data to generate the insights that will benefit the business.  This critical link in the chain isn’t going to be automated anytime soon.  In fact, one of the big worries marketers have is where to find all the data scientists to actually do the work.

It seems to me that there are plenty of people working in research today with all the requisite skills. The research industry just needs to change its mindset from strictly thinking about primary research to thinking about using data, wherever it comes from.

As Tom Anderson has mentioned, and I agree, the act of sifting through volumes of data to understand patterns and identify potentially lucrative groups in the market sounds a lot like segmentation.

Researchers certainly have the skills and the experience to be key players in big data.  Whether it is in the data manipulation and analytics or in the ability to connect the dots to create insights from the data, there is opportunity there for anyone who chooses to seize it.

So…which side do you fall on…optimist or pessimist?  Would love to hear your thoughts.

About the Author

Ed Erickson is the President of Erickson Research, a Chicago market research consulting firm. You can find Ed on LinkedIn and .

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  1. Pingback: How big data limits B2B marketers' impact | Erickson Research

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