Future of Media Research: The challenge of change

07 Feb 2012  |  Chris Worrell 
Chris Worrell

Chris Worrell, European research director at Specific Media, looks back at MediaTel's Future of Media Research event and explains why lots of data creates lots of questions...

Last Friday saw an enjoyable and lively debate around what is in store for media research in 2012 - and beyond. It is often difficult to pin down a single emerging theme from an event with a broad agenda and reflecting the myriad interests of media - from media owners to media agencies, radio to social, and everything else in between. However, one theme was consistent - the challenge of change. The opening discussion revolved around data versus research, and whilst new topics were thrown in, it never really went away.

It is this notion of data that is driving the challenging force of change. Consider this: In 2010 the human race produced 800 exabytes of data. Between the dawn of civilisation and 2003 it produced 'just' five exabytes. That's an explosion of data by any measure. However, lots of data doesn't necessarily equate to lots of answers. In fact, quite the contrary - it creates lots more questions.

The consensus view, encouragingly, was that this proliferation of data requires ever more skilled, smart researchers to interpret and apply learning's gleaned from the virtual miles of 1's and 0's being produced every day (well, I would say that wouldn't I!). But it is an important point. Data is a powerful tool - the analogy du jour is that data is the new oil. Much like oil, data needs to be handled correctly. It is useless without correct refinement. A micro example - if a consumer visits a travel review website, are they in market for a holiday? With strategic decision making, advertising strategy and, ultimately, the difference between success and failure resting on data, never has it been more critical to an organisation.

The less consensual view was the extent that 'data' makes more traditional research redundant. I'm going to sit on the fence. On the one hand, it is hard to argue that gathering, interpreting and actioning actual data in real time is far more compelling than claimed statements, often emanating from sources that simply can't move quickly enough to reflect the rapid pace of consumer change. But at the same time, this real time data should not be taken as gospel, and seen in isolation. It needs to be seen in context - a context often provided by the rich insights of more traditional research approaches. Harmonising the two is integral to making data meaningful.

Faced with an ever increasing volume of data, produced by an increasingly fast changing consumer creates an acute challenge for everyone that works in research and insight. But at the same time, never has the demand for explanations and answers been higher. What a fantastic time to be working in the industry.

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