Traditions in market research are brief and often taken down by advancements in technology and technique. The balance between man and machine is crucial to handling endless streams of data.
In an industry that is changing tremendously, traditional ways of doing things will no longer suffice. Timelines are shortening, as demands for faster and faster insights increase, and, in addition, we are seeking these insights in such a vast sea of data. The only way to address the combination of these two issues is with technology.
The Human-Machine Relationship
One good example of this shift is the whole arena surrounding computational text analysis. Smarter, AI-based approaches are completely changing the way we approach this task. In the past, the human-based analysis only allowed us to skim the text, use a small sample and analyse it with subjective bias. This kind of generalized approach is being replaced by a computational methodology that incorporates all the text while throwing away what the computer views as non-essential information. Sometimes, without the right program, much of the meaning can be lost. However, this machine-based approach can work with large amounts of data quickly.
When we start to dive deeper into AI-based solutions, we see that technology can shoulder much of the hard work to free up humans to do what we can do better. What the machine does really well is finding the data points that can help us tell a better, richer story. It can run algorithms and find patterns in natural language, taking care of the heavy lifting. Then the human can come in, add colour and apply sensible intelligence to the data. This human-machine tension is something I predict that we’ll continue to see as we accommodate our new reality. The end goal is to make the machine as smart as possible to really leverage our own limited time in the best ways possible.
Advanced Statistical Analysis
Another big change taking place surrounds the statistical underpinnings we use for analysis. Traditionally we have found things out by using the humble crosstab tool. But if we truly want to understand what’s driving, for example, differences between groups, it is simply not efficient to troll through crosstab after crosstab. It is much better to have the machine do it for you and reveal just the differences that matter. When you do that, though, classical statistics break down because false positives become statistically inevitable.
Bayesian statistics do not suffer this same problem when a high volume of tests is required. In short, a Bayesian approach allows researchers to test a hypothesis and see if it holds given the data, rather than the more commonly used tests for significance which test that the data is right in the face of a given hypothesis.
There are a host of other models that are changing the way we approach our daily jobs in market research. New tools, some of them based in a completely different set of underlying principles (like Bayesian statistics), are giving us new opportunities. With all these opportunities, we are challenged to work in a new set of circumstances and learn to navigate a new reality.
We can’t afford to wait any longer to change the way we are doing things. The industry and our clients’ industries are moving too quickly for us to hesitate. I encourage researchers to embrace this new paradigm so that they will have the skill advantage. Try new tools, even if you don’t understand how they work, many of them can help you do what you do – better. Doing things in new ways can lead us to better, faster insights. Go for it!