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Q&A: Business analytics provides crucial data for marketers

Frédéric-Charles Petit is a market research industry veteran who founded Toluna in 2000, after seeing the web’s potential as a research platform, and later how research could become a mass market and social experience. Here he discusses how market research technology has developed, the benefits it brings customers and new developments on the horizon.

Tell me more about the history of market research. When did it move online and how has technology taken over?

Over the course of the last decade, market research has seen a revolution in data gathering. As marketers began to focus on how they could speed up the process of gathering relevant consumer insights, their research migrated online to take advantage of real-time communication. This digitalisation has been transforming the industry ever since. Companies are acutely aware of the fast-pace of the modern world and look to the increasing capabilities of online market research to allow them to keep up with competition and make important business decisions with reliable, actionable and high-quality customer data, in real time.

When and how did it become more community based? How does this benefit customers compared to more traditional methods?

When I entered the field of online market research, I did so with the knowledge that one day soon it would be democratised. Inevitably, the internet has broken down barriers of communication and this means marketers can reach more people, more quickly than ever before.

As a result, the proliferation of digital survey platforms means researchers are able to gather and understand whole communities with confidence. Gone are the days of roaming the streets for hours on end armed with clipboard and pen.

Our PanelPortal’s unrivalled panel management tools enable customers to precisely mould member profiles and quickly make contact with respondents that would have been impossibly elusive 20 years ago.

How does online community-based research work in practice?

A good way to think of it is like a social network, like Facebook or Twitter. People create a profile, and then are free to participate in various forms of interaction on the site. They can get their voice heard through joining in on the polls, or by contributing to on-site discussion forums.

At Toluna, we also incentivise our users through our rewards system. It is important to us to let them know how much we value their participation.

Can a customer build their own community? What are the benefits of this compared to using an external community and are there any disadvantages?

We’ve built more than 200 of these brand-specific communities. They allow brands to take the temperature of the customers they serve and are probably most beneficial when they want to hear from an established customer base.

How can a customer be sure that the research is robust? For example, how can you be sure community members are genuine, and that participants are a fair reflection of an intended audience?

Due to the nature of Toluna, an endeavour built around an active and engaged community, we are confident that users are likely to be their authentic selves.

We also proactively work to help our customers cultivate healthy communities, and have multiple services designed to meet this aim including member support and panel health reporting. Simple measures such as reviewing survey response rates and community activity, as well as constantly listening out for any customer complaints or technical issues helps ensure the right level of engagement amongst our panellists.

We feel it is imperative to carefully monitor the frequency of activity. If there’s not enough engagement, panellists can lose interest, while too much activity can burn them out.

Can you explain more about “Big Analytics” and how this works alongside “Big Data”? How does technology enable faster analysis of data sets and are the results reliable?

Many people in our industry actually don’t like using the term ‘big data,’ as it has become such a buzzword. Our approach to the volume of insights that we gather is very logical. We realise that it can be easily and very reliably digested when approached methodically.

The ability to harness, interpret and make decisions with the most up-to-date business intelligence will separate the winners from the losers. These are the foundations of ‘Big Analytics’ – a phenomenon that has grown so rapidly that data scientists are one of the most in-demand professions in business, and many universities across the world have been busy developing and rolling out new Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Business Analytics.

What are automated recommendations in big analytics technology?

Automation is the only way an organisation can reach into the myriad data sources, gather the necessary information, and provide meaningful analytics. Automated analytics is destined to go further faster. Automated recommendations are the latest development, and these will continue to gather speed and sophistication in the months and years to come. Decision-makers will no longer have to comb through data and make subjective decisions based on their own interpretations. Instead, they’ll get a list of recommendations based on evident trends in the data. That will further reduce the time it takes to travel from problem to solution, and will mean marketers will be able to create and implement campaigns at the moment of peak relevance. It’s the next logical step in the evolution of automated analytics tools, enabling brands to reach consumers within ideal timeframes.

Automated recommendations mean that the data becomes much richer and more actionable. When coupled with survey data, we can yield the ‘why’ from the ‘what.’

What do you think will be the next development in market research technology?

Well, the first step is coming to terms with the widely acknowledged reality that email is dead from a market-research perspective. The way forward lies in finding a way of harnessing the power of mobile, and while we have started there is definitely a lot more to discover.

Frédéric-Charles Petit