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Recently, I've been noticing a big gap in understanding between traditional market researchers and the folks who work with digital data. More than a lack of understanding, it sometimes veers towards downright distrust.

The gap has widened since "big data" became such a central part of the insights conversation.

People who work with digital data often see the survey and qualitative research world as slow, unreliable and outdated. At least on one level, they have a point. Observing actual behavior is clearly better than relying on what people think they do. And, assuming you have access to the data and an analytical process in place, you can collect digital data in real time, rather than waiting to draft a questionnaire, field a study, analyze and report on results. You can fail fast and often, innovating on the run. Against this backdrop, it's easy to understand why a lot of digital data analysts say "why bother with survey research"?

For their part, traditional market researchers feel they bring a level of understanding that big data can never hope to capture. By engaging with the consumer, traditional research can give you some going-in assumptions or hypotheses that can help you plan where and how you hook up to the fire hose that is big data. And once you start collecting the data, traditional market research methods can put the results in context. It's one thing to observe current behavior; it's quite another to know what people will do in the future - or why. And that's where survey and qualitative research comes in. (Not to mention all the non-digital behavior that lies beyond the reach of big data.)

Several of our clients at Vision Critical are starting to explore a third option - using their insight communities to capture consumers' digital behavior while also talking to the same consumers about why they behave the way they do. By virtue of the unique level of trust gained through an engaged insight community, they are able to secure consumers' consent to download apps or agree to carry cookies to track their digital behavior. Observed behaviors can then be probed in surveys or a discussion forum to gain critical context, quickly and easily.

Rather than drawing battle lines, both digital data analysts and traditional market researchers are better off recognizing that tomorrow's insight managers will have to bridge the gap - observing digital behavior while also gaining insights from speaking directly with the consumer.

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