At last year’s MRS main annual conference, Impact 2015, IJMR hosted a debate for the first time, ‘Fit-for-purpose sampling in the internet age’, where four research sector leaders debated the topic, chaired by Adam Phillips.

We’re very pleased to have successfully bid for a further slot at this year’s conference, Impact 2016, where on Tuesday March 15th at 15.15 we will be hosting a debate titled ‘Who will succeed in the new age of data discovery?’ Following the success of our 2015 session, Adam Phillips will once again chair the debate.

Our focus this time is on the skills necessary to be successful in the ‘Big data’ era, and in particular to debate the role for researchers. Can researchers play a lead role in the complex world of ‘big data’, or are we condemned to simply provide some pieces for the jigsaw, whilst others complete the picture and deliver the added value to aid strategic and operational decision making? What skills and experience are vitally important in playing a lead role and influencing the future direction of the organisation through converting big data into smart data?

There’s lots of evidence from the likes of Greenbook and PwC that clients are struggling with how to use data effectively and efficiently to support the business. The GRIT survey indicates that researchers are not necessarily viewed by clients as providing the help they think they need, whilst the PwC survey indicates a lack of trust by managers in those advising them on data strategy.

Orchestrating data

We think that there is a core role here for ‘orchestrators’, who can manage a team of data specialists and harness their skills to provide the insights that management need for decision making. Why shouldn’t these be those trained in research skills, rather than, say, data scientists? It’s not just about being data specialists – there needs to be an in-depth understanding of the organisation’s strategy, knowledge of competitor activity and the needs of the market (i.e. understanding consumer needs and behaviour), in particular what will deliver sustainable competitive advantage. In addition, communication skills are vitally important if the role is to be viewed as a trusted advisor by senior management. Surely, researchers can do all that?

Philip Tetlock in his book, ‘Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction’, identifies such individuals as foxes. Foxes are multidisciplinary people and ‘believe in a plethora of little ideas and in taking a multitude of approaches to a problem’. They are highly adaptable and can more easily deal with nuance, uncertainty, dissenting opinions, and they thrive on complexity. Foxes are quick to realise how noisy data can be, and are less inclined to chase false signals. ‘They know more about what they don’t know.’

Those foxes who weigh the probabilities from a synthesis of complex information, and who can also exhibit certainty when required, are much less common, but they make excellent leaders, or more commonly, advisers to leaders. Surely we can do that – I’m sure many already fill such a role. See my previous blog on this. 

Our panel of speakers

Edwin Kooge will open the debate. Edwin is managing partner of Metrixlab Big Data Analytics and co-author with Professor Verhoef, Professor of Marketing at Groningen University and Natasha Walk, of a very favourably reviewed new book; ‘Creating Value with Big Data Analytics’. He will open the session with a summary of their views on the role of marketing intelligence in a customer centric organisation and the mix of skills required in this new era to meet its needs.

Our second speaker is Paul Bosher, Global Head of Research at Wallgreens Boots Alliance, previously at Coca Cola. Paul will describe what it’s like working in a company awash with data held in a complex network of organisational silos. These silos meet differing requirements, depending on whether they support retail, manufacturing, sales and distribution or brand and product development. He will talk about the characteristic of big data analysis to provide answers to the “what” more than the “why” and how the changing structure of organisations impacts what we do.

Organisations are increasingly shining the spotlight on social media to help them understand consumers and in developing their marketing strategy, but only if the signals can be successfully detected in all the noise. Our third speaker, Rachel Lawes, is a semiotician, founder of Lawes Consulting and Principal Lecturer in Marketing at Regent’s University. Big data to Rachel is the vast flow of conversations and comments flowing from social media – qualitative data on a quantitative scale. She will argue why a synthesis between marketing and the social sciences is vital in creating the skill-set necessary for success in building successful social media businesses, providing examples from existing sites.

Finally, Christina Jenkins, Director of Global Research, GSO Insights, at LinkedIn based in San Francisco will describe the big data challenge from a business-to-business environment. Christina previously led the EMEA Marketing Solutions Insights team at LinkedIn, combining big data analytics and market research and has worked at Dynamic Logic and Millward Brown. She was also involved in the Insights 2020 project last year which identified the key drivers of customer centric growth. In addition to discussing the skills vital to success in a customer centric business-to-business organisation, and how to unlock the power of data, Christina will also share with us some insights from LinkedIn data about the career paths of data scientists and market researchers.

We promise a lively discussion between the speakers and there will be plenty of time for questions from delegates

We hope that you will leave this session with, firstly, a clearer perspective on why and how researchers can take a lead role in helping their organisations turn big data into smart data to create a competitive edge for their organisation, and, secondly, some useful tips on furthering your own career. So, if you are attending this year’s conference, ensure you put this session into your diary to hear how to turn big data into smart data.

See further details of Impact 2016, including booking details.


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