QUALITATIVE DATA: THE OTHER WHITE MEAT

PeerCulture, November 15, 2016
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Big Data is the bee’s knees. There are so many amazing benefits and opportunities created from BIG Data. Take the emergence of Smart Cities for example. Smart Cities are leveraging Big Data tools and insights to reduce street lighting energy consumption, improve traffic and reduce crime. Here are just a few highlights. Since the Memphis Police started using predictive analytics, it has reduced serious crime by 30%. Portland, Oregon used Big Data technology to optimize the timing of its traffic signals eliminating more than 157,000 metric tonnes of CO2 emissions. There is no argument. Big Data is helping us improve the world.

Big Data is transforming business as well, from informing better products and improving overall cost-savings to enabling one-on-one customer relationships on a mass scale. For Marketers, including Employer Marketers, the potential to deliver the right message at the right time to the right audience is truly a game-changing proposition. Imagine a world with no email clutter or no irrelevant ads disrupting your daily tasks. Okay, we are not there yet, but the promise of Big Data gives us hope that we will soon transform ‘marketing’ into ‘value.’

The irony of the Big Data Age for marketing is that while we will soon have the capabilities to target and deliver the right message to the right person, it does not necessarily guarantee that the message will engage, inspire or persuade the audience. There is and always will be a human variable. Humans are complex creatures who sometimes need to be moved, loved or somehow enlightened through a message in order for the message to persuade. Sir Isaac Newton said it best: “I can calculate the motion of heavenly bodies but not the madness of people.”

Historically, marketers have used a smaller kind of data — specifically qualitative data – to help them uncover human insights that were used as the foundation of their messages. Unlike Big Data, which is primarily quantitative data, qualitative data is information about qualities; information that can’t actually be measured. Qualitative research has the ability to expose “rich insights” about intangible factors that provide a context for human behavior such as human values, feelings, thoughts, intentions, barriers, motivators, culture, and social norms.

So will Big Data someday include qualitative data? Well, some would argue that it has already begun. There are some data types that could be considered qualitative, such as sentiment data. Here is an interesting example. A study from the University of Vermont used sentiment analysis to map the emotional arcs of over 1,300 stories. They then implemented data-mining techniques and discovered six core story arcs that form the building blocks of all complex narratives. This is interesting because Big Data was used to prove the existence of basic story arcs, shedding light on what appeals to all people.

But still, these types of studies have yet to uncover the deep, emotional triggers that are so valuable in crafting persuasive messaging. A time is coming when Big Data technology will be able to capture these insights, but there is still a lot of work to do.

In the meantime, it is critical that we do not dismiss the need for human insights when crafting messages. We can’t be so blinded by the bigness of big data that we rely solely on quantitative insights to try to engage our customers. For some reason, marketers like to take a side in the debate. To be honest, I am not sure why there is even a debate. It is not an either/or scenario. There must be a balance, and until uncovering human insights is automated through technology, it is important for companies, especially marketers, to address the need for human insight in their messaging. Otherwise, who cares if you get the right message to the right audience at the right time? If the audience thinks that you don’t understand them as a human, the message will fall flat.