Big data: friend or foe?

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Technology is changing not only how consumers buy and research products, but also how marketers and advertisers research consumer behavior. But researchers are unsure whether all this newly available data is an opportunity or a hindrance.

This was a major theme during the opening keynote panel discussion at the Advertising Research Foundation's 2012 Re:Think conference in New York City today.

While some marketers have lauded the potential opportunities of big data, Romesh Wadhwani, founder, chairman and CEO of Symphony Technologies, said it is not the solution, but part of the problem.

“The biggest challenge is that today's consumer is not yesterday's consumer. Today's consumer is in charge, is empowered, and the consumer is really, in some sense, a state of mind,” Wadhwani said during the panel. “The view of the consumer has gotten far more complicated and this has led to an analytics or insights disconnect.”

Marketers are too caught up with gathering data, but the data has led to few insights, he adds. “We have a serious challenge, which is how to connect all dots together to have one integrated set of insights,” Wadhwani said.

On the contrary, Matthias Hartman, CEO of GfK, said big data is transforming the industry and is providing major opportunities. However, researchers need to globalize the business and think big to take full advantage of the opportunities. Additionally, it is important to leverage historical data to anticipate the future and predict consumer behavior, he said.

“We're sitting on a goldmine, but we keep thinking small,” Hartman said. “If we link the people skills we have, look ahead and fuse it with the data technology—we can rock this world.”

David Calhoun, Nielsen's CEO, said big data is also changing the way researchers listen to their consumers.

“Most people want to learn how to use social networks, when actually the job is to just listen,” Calhoun said. “There's not question that the coming of the social networking world offers amazing opportunities to just listen.”

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