WHEN MORE CAN BE MORE: Pondering the Paradoxes of Data Proliferation

by Thania Farrar

It often strikes me how fortunate the curious are in today’s world. We live in an era of information abundance, filled with answers to many of our questions – if we take the time and leverage the right tools to seek them. With the advent of machine learning and AI, accessing data has become easier and more intuitive than it’s ever been.

However, as information becomes more plentiful, making sense of it all can become more of a challenge. Companies continue to encounter paradoxical barriers as they try to unlock insights – from all this data – that can help drive their businesses forward. Here are three “insights paradox” examples that companies are encountering today:

More Data ≠ Greater Insight: Transforming Information into Insights

Companies have a better view of consumer behavior in the data trails associated with increased time spent online, use of more sophisticated devices, and expanded connections via technology in daily life. In addition, many companies leverage listening posts for customer feedback, collecting detailed information about the customer’s experience at every transaction.

Yet, a critical challenge remains when it comes to aligning the right talent with access to this abundance of – and often siloed – information. More recently, data security has also served as a barrier to easy sharing with broader teams. To effectively work through these obstacles, it is imperative to create secure avenues for data access. Some companies are building complex data lakes that serve as repositories for disparate streams of data.

At the very least, steps should be taken to inform team members of available data and remove barriers to access. Bringing the “dream team” of data scientists, market researchers, and technologists together as information architects will yield more complete opportunities for translating data to insights.

Illuminated Behavior ≠ Full Perspective: Unlocking the Whole Consumer

Consumer data trails can be found everywhere. Weaving through my data trail would reveal examples such as current home projects and my love of the color orange – based on Amazon and Lowes purchases; the types of medications my dog consumes – based on Chewy history; and where I went on vacation last year – based on Facebook posts. The data can be predictive, revealing where I may vacation this year by reviewing Google search history.

When examined closely, diverse paths of activity can reveal nuanced behaviors. However, these disparate glimpses of reality do not equate to a complete picture of a person or speak to the intent behind the behaviors. They do not, for instance, disclose that I wish there was time for more ambitious home projects, that sleepless nights are spent worrying about my dog with special needs, and that repeat trips to Hawaii are indicative of my desire to retire there someday just to see the sun set over the endless ocean – hence the love of orange.

As researchers, we seek to understand the person behind the data. In turn, analysis needs to go beyond face value and ask “Why?” to fully illuminate an individual’s behavior from their activity. Talk to your consumers regularly and allow them to reveal the nuances to their behavior. Uncovering the richness behind the “Why” can answer the challenge to wholly address consumer needs. Accordingly, this helps companies grow their business by building stronger relationships with their consumers and customers.

Increased Access ≠ Greater Activation: Democratizing Insights Requires Guidance

As established in the first paradox, building access points for information is key to unlocking data’s potential, especially among those in a position to drive growth for an organization. However, the expectation that simply providing access to an abundance of information will automatically turn into insights – that the end user will know how to effectively translate the information – is misguided.

There are several challenges to overcome, including the fact that access will not guarantee that people will leverage information on their own. As an example, this past fall at The Market Research Event, one company shared their sophisticated knowledge platform and how it helps drive access to global research and insights. Yet, the company admitted that, despite their best efforts, it remains a struggle to continuously engage end users on the platform.

At the end of the day, the old adage still rings true: you can bring a horse to water, but you can’t force it to drink. Even when individuals are curious and seek information, there remains a strong need for additional roles to provide guidance on fully leveraging and activating the information. As such, we should not assume that the activation of insights is best served by a DIY model. Companies can benefit from having researchers and strategists develop their facilitation skills to guide end users on the path to action – which ultimately leads to positive outcomes for business growth.

Advances in technology and the resulting myriad of information offer an incredible opportunity for gleaning deeper insights into human behavior. However, today’s organizations must overcome the paradoxical barriers associated with an overabundance of data; to do more with more, companies must have a group of dedicated individuals to make sense of it, complete it, and activate it.

In the end, our curiosity leads us to look beyond all of the information technology makes available. It drives us to transform data into knowledge and pinpoint new insights that can inspire meaningful strategies and measurable growth.  Afterall, it is humans who hold the key to unlocking those insights.

Thania is a Senior Vice President in Client Services at Burke, Inc. where she keeps busy helping clients find new ways to learn about what people do and why. In her spare time, she enjoys hitting the road for a run with a captivating Stephen King audio book for company.

Interested in reading more? Check out Thania’s other article:

Two Days at UGA: An Overview of This Year’s MMR Summit

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