We had the pleasure of sitting down with Niko Waesche, who leads GfK’s Customer and Audience Activation unit, to talk about the market research industry and the role it plays in the digital ecosystem. GfK is the trusted source of relevant market and consumer insights that enables its clients to make smarter decisions.
Q: What are the biggest challenges you are seeing in the market research industry today?
Niko: Market research needs to adapt to a world in which more and more data is available via digital sources. What seems a threat is also a huge opportunity. While at first glance there seems to be an overflow of data available about consumers, on closer inspection there are gaps and challenges. For one, the world is not a rich data lake, it is more like a giant Swiss cheese with lots of gaping data holes. It is important to note that data must be obtained legitimately and comply with privacy standards - as some of the data that is readily available is actually toxic.
And how do you make use of all this data? How do you accurately combine data from a number of separate sources and how can valuable insights be generated from this abundance of information?
Finally, market research has a huge role to play in linking the “what” of digitally sourced data to the “why” of consumer behavior. We use a portfolio of tools to more fully understand brand experience across all user touchpoints in order to gain a full 360 degree view of the consumer. Ultimately consumers are human, not a series of data points.
Q: How can market research companies stay relevant?
Niko: We will not stay relevant by continuing to do only what we have been doing for the past 20 years.
The opportunity for the market research industry is to use our position as a trusted ecosystem partner to support our clients in evaluating, combining and synthesizing data sets and transforming these into valuable and actionable insights. And we need our services to be scalable, integrated and fast. This is a journey; nobody in the industry is there yet. Working closely with a global activation platform like Eyeota is one of the ways we are accelerating this process.
Our message to our clients is that we recommend that they look at the business model of their data partners. You're going to get insights from us that some of your other partners won't be able give you because they're in a different type of business. We're focused purely on the business of helping our clients make better decisions and get better insights and better data.
Q: How would you describe the role of market research data in the digital ecosystem?
Niko: A couple of years ago, most of what we did was offline, like booking travel in an agency on the high street. Does anybody remember that? Today, we are living in a hybrid world; there still is a significant offline component in many things we do as consumers.
Think of market research companies as your partners for bringing both these worlds together to provide a holistic, comprehensive view of the consumer. Using GfK as an example, we have point of sale data for durable and electronics purchases in 80 countries, sourced from more than 400,000 retailers. In some of the world’s largest consumer markets, we can link media behavior, including TV viewing and Facebook in-app ad exposures, to store purchases. FMCG companies love this data because it helps them understand the full customer journey, not only the last click.
Q: Where do you see the role of digital data heading?
Niko: Eventually, through the Internet of Things and other developments, there will probably be a near 100% overlap between the online and offline worlds. For instance, a car we sit in will automatically be online, feeding driving data to enable mobility services. In addition, take the recent news of Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods – anything you buy in Whole Foods will be part of the Amazon universe.
Even where there’s a near 100% overlap, the market research industry still have a role because the role we’ll have is to put the data together in a smart way that delivers understanding. We’re trying to build this fabric of smartness right now—calibration, data science, filling the gaps—that’s what we’re about.
Q: One of the most urgent topics today is the use of bad, inaccurate data. What can agencies do to ensure they’re always using the best quality data?
Niko: There is data that is just simply bad and there is good data that is used wrongly. Finally, there is good data used in the right way.
There has been a lot of attention around bot data. Using data that is generated by bots is going to lead you astray, obviously, because it's wrong data, it's not human data.
Sometimes businesses are trying to make the data do things that it simply cannot do. What we do to address this is to check which data sets correlate and which don’t. For example, regarding certain financial characteristics, purchase power or likelihood to use certain financial products, is often more closely correlated with aggregated postal codes than with digital media behavior. For this reason, we are activating our GfK FRS financial segments in the UK on the Eyeota audience platform, which specializes in linking special data sets like aggregated postal codes.
The fact that Eyeota has the ability to link to postal code data—and because it’s aggregated data, we’re not dealing with personally identifiable information—makes it a robust platform on which to map to our financial segments.