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FEATURE26 February 2018

Revenge of the nerds: the rise of data analytics and insights

Data analytics Features Technology UK

The MRS’s one-day Data Analytics and Insights conference in London last week saw a record-breaking attendance. Ray Poynter looks at the emerging themes.

A packed room enjoyed news about multi-source data, advanced techniques, and self-deprecatory jokes about nerds – reflecting the new-found confidence that surrounds people working with data.

Three key themes emerged across the day: multi-sourced insights, creating simplicity from complexity, and the need to focus on usefulness.

The future is all about multi-sourced solutions

Organisations are swimming in data, most problems can be answered by combining the information that exists, or by creating a small amount of additional/complementary market research data. Several presenters showed how they had used multiple sources to create solutions that made efficient use of existing data (e.g. transactions, web analytics and social).

The gaming company Betsson used existing data in combination with research to re-evaluate NPS. The VUE cinema chain used multiple sources (for example sales data, Mosaic and research) to create a segmentation that delivered real value to the business.

One of the main challenges that market researchers face when engaging with multi-sourced information relates to the initial incompatibilities of the varying data streams, and the somewhat archaic and unjoined-up nature of most market research information. Speakers such as Nielsen’s James Oates, YouGov’s Amelia Brophy and ZappiStore’s Stephen Phillips highlighted data curation and new data thinking as an essential element to ensuring market research creates fully-integrated, data-focused solutions.

Complex analysis must produce convincing stories

The stage was full (as was the room) of very bright, very numerate people – but there was unanimity that the end product of using AI, or time series regression, or cutting-edge transformations, must be a clear message that can be understood and used.

The focus of the presentations about modelling football participation, deriving new KPIs for Sky, or identifying new trends in chair designs for furniture brand Arper, was on how the complex techniques that had been used were largely invisible to the people using the results. We need to deliver clear stories that show the actions that should be taken.

The storytelling theme was brought alive by Sam Knowles, a professional story teller who shared key tips – for example ‘Beware of the curse of knowledge’, problems caused by not having the empathy to understand what your audience does not know.

Focusing on usefulness

One thing that market researchers and data scientists have in common is that they are passionately interested in their domain. In the case of market researchers, that means people and research methods, and in the case of data scientists, that means data and tools like Python and R.

However, value is generated when researchers and data scientists focus on being useful to the rest of the business. A focus on outcomes starts with combining multiple sources, blending market research and data science to create stories and outcomes that help the organisation.

Given the success and popularity of this one-day conference I’m already looking forward to next year’s event.

Ray Poynter is managing director of The Future Place