Blog Jori van de Spijker – Practice Lead Brand & Comms


As Insights professionals we live in the most exciting of times. There is more data available than ever before and data-driven decision making is the talk of the town. But at the same time, market research as an industry is under pressure.

As the amount of accessible data increases, so does the number of tech-driven agencies that promise to unlock this data for better decision making. I often hear people talk about ‘big data’. Whatever the data is, they claim to help marketeers make the best decisions for the company. But to me, data is just the beginning. It’s a means to an end, and not the end itself. And it should be used the same way in research.


Are questionnaires still relevant?

Over the past 10 years I have noticed a trend: ‘Questionnaires and market research will become redundant and cease to exist’. As the world becomes digitalised there is so much data available; GPS, beacons, trackers. We follow and track everything online. Where people walk, where they shop, where they live and where they work. As a result, people think questionnaires aren’t necessary anymore. To me, it’s a bit more nuanced.


The most important question is WHY

Data can be important and helpful when accessible. But there are some remarks. Just because we can measure something, does not mean we always should. And more importantly, passive behavioural data help us describe consumer behaviour, but does not help us understand consumer behaviour. There will always be a place for asking questions. But, what do you ask? For one, the motivations behind behaviour. But also, mind related concepts such as perception and brand experience. That’s what you need to ask. Data gives you where, who, how and what. But why, remains a big question mark. And the why, is the most important question of them all.


“You can only understand what drives behaviour, if you ask the right questions.”


Data will never tell you which associations people have with certain brands and products. And let that just be the thing that triggers behaviour. The why can never be extracted from data. If you want to know what moves people to behave in a certain way, you need to ask smart questions. And that’s exactly why you should always combine data with market research. I would like to give you an example.


Moving from data to insights

Recently a client had accumulated a lot of behavioural data regarding the display of prices on their website. Using extensive A/B testing, they found that a specific colour of showing the price worked better in driving sales for expensive products. Intrigued, yet puzzled by this finding they did not understand why this was the case. And as a result, they were uncertain to change and could not base their strategy on it. In a specifically designed study, we asked consumers about their associations and perception of the website with the varying colours. We found a clear answer why the new colour worked better for expensive products: consumer associated it with premium-ness and luxury.

Combining the behavioural data with the consumer perceptions based on questions, we came to a true insight of which the whole company learned and benefited from. This was much more impactful than just one small tactical optimisation on a single page. Knowing the why influences your marketing strategy. Without knowing the why, you can never learn what other decisions you could make based on your data, to try and improve the whole organisation.


Back to the future of research

I love the fact that more and more behavioural data is available. But I also believe in a future where asking questions is still relevant. Clearly, people don’t want to spend 30 minutes answering questions. And they don’t have to, because we already know a lot from behavioural data. What’s left is a need to ask smarter questions. No longer do we need to ask people where they are and what they do. But we do need to ask the right questions to understand how they perceive the world and what drives their behaviour.

A finding based on only behavioural data is merely an observation, not an insight. It helps make tactical decisions but does not drive strategic decision making. Only by answering the why do we get a seat at the table where company strategy is determined.

For me, the future of our industry is an integration of behavioural data and questionnaires. As an industry we tend to be conservative and traditional. But as market researchers we need to dare to tip our toes in the water. Dare to integrate media data, sales data and website statistics with perception questions. In today’s world we need to look beyond only using questionnaires. To survive and to thrive we need to evolve and capture these new exciting opportunities to realise better insights. Yet still never forgetting the different roles both data and questionnaires play.