From Data Collector to Agent Provocateur: 3 Keys to Capitalizing on the Big Data Opportunity

03.13.13

by Greg Heist, Chief Innovation Officer, Gongos, Inc. & Jason Raguso, Vice President, Data Sciences, Gongos, Inc.

“Nothing is more expensive than a missed opportunity.”
—H. Jackson Brown

As a whole, the challenges facing the marketing research industry are twofold.  On one hand, clients and vendors are trying to navigate the disruptive currents that are redefining our discipline. On the other—and perhaps more fundamentally—there is a demand for research to become a greater catalyst of organizational transformation.

In this context, the “big data opportunity” is a microcosm of these two forces playing out in real time.  We believe that success or failure will be determined by the degree to which organizations can make three key transitions of mindset and value creation.

Stewardship:  Objective Collectors vs. Holistic Synthesizers

It will finally be time to break free from the data-collection mindset.  Historically, when a client presents a market researcher with a problem, they instinctually begin designing a data collection methodology to provide a solution to the issue at hand.

Data integration requires a more macro approach. We need to think like holistic synthesizers, exploring preexisting enterprise data to shed further light on the issue.  This will require understanding a breadth of potential datasets—both their strengths and limitations—as well as the cascading effect of the insights throughout the organization.

Openness to Failure: Efficient Manufacturer vs. R&D Innovator TS numbers, multicolored 100715681

New college grads with applied mathematics or computer science chops are a great addition to market research teams because of their natural analytics aptitudes. Yet MR firms tend to plug these recruits into preset roles to execute industry-validated analyses, ensuring they are highly billable out the gate.  It is a manufacturing mindset that values scale, efficiency, quality and consistent delivery of a given set of actions over and over again.

Contrast that with a big data environment. The same talent would be empowered to explore and tinker with data in the quest for game-changing insights.  Like scientists in an R&D environment, data integration embraces the willingness to experiment (and even fail), retool and try again all in the pursuit of the “eureka moment.”  It’s learning, not knowing—a journey with the client, not a rush to deliver a report.

Success in this space demands a new kind of leadership: one that indulges curiosity and preserves the innovative spirit from being organizationally diluted.

Role Within Client Organization: Reactive Order-Taker vs. Agent Provocateur

Regardless of whether we are client- or vendor-side, we often bemoan not having a “seat at the table.”  Yet maybe it’s because researchers still behave in a way that perpetuates that outsider status. All too often, we work from an order-taker mindset, pulling the tool from our belt that seems befitting for the question.

By contrast, the very nature of data integration is that of an agent provocateur—being a catalyst of deeper thought into the true nature of the dilemma.  In this role, the stated problem likely isn’t the real problem.  Rather, it could be merely symptomatic of a broader business issue. Grasping the larger issue and providing a framework for formulating hypotheses and identifying variables is the role of the big data consultant.

Succeeding in this space means possessing both vision and will of leadership to disrupt the nature of business as usual.  In doing so, firms will take an essential step toward becoming the catalysts of change this new era demands.

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