Privacy’s next battleground: melding big data and market research

Historically, the market research industry has taken an ethical high ground on the subject of data privacy. It has avoided controversy because the subjects of its research are always 100 per cent clear on what they are taking part in. Nothing is done behind the scenes or without explicit opt-in.

With the advent of big data the industry now faces a fork in the road. To be viable, market research must filter the benefits of big data while maintaining its hard-won reputation for privacy, in a climate where clients want information faster than ever. It must also retain its unique selling proposition for answering the big “why?” questions accurately and not just the “what?”

Maintaining relevancy in a world of data on demand is difficult for market research. The speed challenge cannot be met with old methods, so the market research community should embrace big data and techniques fusing passive with active information to address this.


Ben Leet, European managing director for Instantly, explains: “Big data does go some way to solving this speed challenge. If we are able to collect data ahead of time – whether that be behavioural, sentimental or opinion driven – then it’s much easier to minimise the ‘asking’ required of respondents. It also removes some of the memory recall bias associated with surveys that ask for responses after the fact.”

Technology is enabling automation to deliver greater speed across a variety of industries and its adoption within market research is inevitable in solving the speed conundrum, helping to maintain relevance in a fast-paced world.

It’s how quickly we as an industry can keep up with the sentiment of the people we’re researching and the demands of our clients that will define our future

“For example, today Instantly has the technology to understand which of our panellists has been exposed to a particular mobile advert. We can then passively track their movements, with their consent, to understand behavioural changes, such as store visitation patterns, and from there we could even survey those people in stores in real time via the same mobile device,” says Mr Leet.

“It doesn’t then take a leap of faith to imagine merging this data with point-of-sale data and other information to develop a much wider view on a respondent, and deliver more relevant surveys and content to them, while asking fewer questions and being much quicker in delivery.”

While it does have a “big brother” feel to it, according to an Instantly UK online survey, conducted earlier this month, of 1,000 adults in the UK, 62 per cent of respondents agreed that big data can benefit them by making market research surveys more relevant and shorter.

This is not to say that privacy is no longer an issue. Some 71 per cent confirmed that data privacy and security remain a concern. But, says Mr Leet: “If you can clearly communicate the benefit of big data, then consumers will be more likely to share. Only 28 per cent of respondents were not comfortable with market research companies sharing their personal data with brands to provide deeper insights alongside survey data. Instantly is working to create a stronger dialogue with its large international audiences to address this.”

Mr Leet concludes: “Our industry is facing challenges and opportunities equally. It’s how quickly we as an industry can keep up with the sentiment of the people we’re researching and the demands of our clients that will define our future.”