How Qualitative Fills in Big Data Blanks

Guest blogger:  Tyrone Takami

Tyrone Takami is a contributing Account Planner at AlixCompany. He’s been working directly with Alix for several months and is a unique thinker. We thought you might enjoy a few thoughts from Tyrone. This post is the first of several.

Hi Planner-Sphere,

I love how the work of brand strategy relies so much on coming to an understanding of people through finding insights. I get such a kick out of discovering what people love, what they fight for- the beliefs, and values that drive behavior. As a deliverable, we call these things consumer insights – above all we’re here to help businesses grow.  But at the end of the day, I still think much of the work we do with consumers boils down to the all too human act of getting to know someone well, and in ways that count.

So, I cringe a little bit in my chair and shrink a few centimeters when we talk about Big Data.  I know it’s vital, I know it’s here to stay, and I know it’s an ally in discovering those seismic shifting insights.  I’ve also heard over and over how it single-handedly built Netflix’s smash-hit stateside remake of House of Cards.  Ok, ok, yes, I do secretly harbor the fear that my job may too get replaced by The Robots. But, there’s been something else to it that I hadn’t been able to put my finger on until I started looking around for industry thinkers that are writing on the subject.

As a brand planner, I’ve been loving Graham Hall’s essay “Putting the Analogue Back into Insight”.  It’s a gem to me because of how Hall sticks up for the value of qualitative research and insight in our current branding age where Big Data is all the rage. What’s more, it speaks so much to a larger trend of a qualitative (qual) renewal-revival in commerce.

For me, it’s not so much a fight against big data it’s more a fight with big dataHear me out on this – it’s kind of like Judo.  It’s like Judo in the sense that this giant hulking convention of big data is brutishly dominant, and as planners we’re leveraging its power towards more nuanced consumer insights. That is, Big Data’s multitudes of measurements become major assets to…

  • Zero in on key areas for consumer inquiry
  • Quickly and rapidly name a multitude of hypothesis
  • Articulate key behavioral ‘snapshot-like’ moments in time

It can help give us with the what, where, and when to look for ‘why’s’ with qualitative methods.  However, what it lacks is all too crucial – the ability to check-in and touch base with people, finding insight and sparking imaginative creative fodder. That is, Big Data data falls short with…

  • Long-term strategic goodness because it is tactically actionable rather than long-term strategically actionable
  • Texture or creative ‘why’ fodder. You can’t probe with quant. You can’t ladder to understand the core motivation.

Qual can fill in the blanks and provide the texture precisely where quant lags.

Hall’s piece continues with this sort of goodness by pointing out an important flaw with marketing strategies that lean too hard on Big Data and quantitative measurement – superficiality; resting too much on numbers limits you to observations rather than insights;  facts about what’s happened rather than actions for what’s next.

When you just rely on quantitative data, you risk missing out on an understanding of the consumer that sparks comprehensive, coherent strategic plans that are focused, proactive, and timely.

You miss the “brand” part of “brand planning”. As Ogilvy articulated it, “the intangible sum of a product’s attributes”.

What do you think?  How have you been helped or hindered with Big Data?  Has qual ever revealed something vital that quant failed to detect?

Thanks for reading,

Tyrone Takami