OPINION26 May 2015

The data research blind spot


Fans of the popular show, Mad Men, can’t have failed to observe how the birth of the ‘super computer’ seemingly transformed the face of the advertising industry.


This was certainly a disruptive innovation that had many positive implications for the marketing sector, but did this new focus on ‘digital’ leave a crucial element of the marketing mix behind in the 1960s? Marketers today have become increasingly focused on all things digital, and particularly big data, but in this quest to understand and capitalise on new research techniques, have some forgotten about the value of traditional, tried and tested methods of understanding their target audience?

Trends often resurface to make a comeback, but ‘retro’ should not be a term that is associated solely with the fashion industry: it can be applied to many areas and practices. The UK’s first vinyl singles chart was recently launched to reflect the resurgence of vinyl among music lovers in the UK. Similarly, as e-books continue to fly off the ‘e-shelves’, traditional forms of reading continue to thrive. These examples highlight that there is still a market for heritage products, traditional methods, and a consumer desire to connect with a tangible product. This key point is one that marketers should be mindful of when concocting their research tactics to ensure they are able to connect with their target consumer in an appropriate manner to glean the feedback they require.

Even the most contemporary strategies need a complement of more traditional elements, especially if they are to be as effective as Don and Peggy’s focus groups at Sterling Cooper. Brands must once again find a way to incorporate tried and tested research methods to inform their evolving marketing mix, alongside the promise of modern research approaches.

The data research blind spot

Using data to profile customers and understand who they are, where they are and what they might want, is undoubtedly valuable and should remain a pivotal part of a marketer’s strategy. But there is still much to be said for the art of getting your product into a consumer’s hand and asking for their feedback on it. In no way am I advocating that sampling should be used in place of data research, but it should definitely be implemented as a complementary strand of research activity wherever appropriate.

We’ve all walked through a train station during rush hour and been handed a free product. It’s a nice bonus that usually brightens up a monotonous commute. This kind of activity may create word of mouth, but in research terms it can be described as ‘scattergun’ at best. However, product sampling in a strategic and targeted manner can provide marketers with concentrated feedback straight from their consumer sweet spot. Maverick Brands recently conducted a sampling campaign within a number of workplaces in the US for its Coco Libre Coconut Water and Protein product, which has provided a number of valuable consumer insights, in terms of their opinion on the specific ingredients in the drink and their propensity to buy it. These are granular details that cannot simply be mined from a database, it requires a targeted and direct approach.

The digital world continues to evolve and offer us more, be it data or additional channels to reach consumers which can only be a positive thing. However, marketers must not forget that sometimes nothing can beat the original and best. My overall message? Mix the old with the new to create a research strategy that will provide you with the right information, from the right people and at the right time. Don and Peggy would most certainly approve.

Hannah Campbell is operations director at sampling company, The Work Perk