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April 20, 2015 – What does Big Data really tell us about the Voice of the Consumer?

What does Big Data really tell us about the Voice of the Consumer?

In a recently published study, Deloitte looked at the ways in which Canadian CMOs deal with ‘Big Data” in an age where information is readily available and flowing. I was struck by a quote in a related article which stated that CMOs are being instructed to treat data as the “voice of the customer”.

What is Voice of the Customer anyway?

Wikipedia defines Voice of the customer (VOC) as “a term used to describe the in-depth process of capturing a customer’s expectations, preferences and aversions”.

What Big Data does tell us.

While I believe in the power and importance of data and analytics, as a qualitative researcher, I know that data cannot convey consumer expectations, preferences and aversions. The data may be able to show WHAT an individual customer (or segment of customers) did at a particular moment in time or over a time period. Data can show how many items were purchased, in combination with what other products – even potentially when and where the product was used.

What Big Data doesn’t tell us.

What was a customer thinking when she/he purchased a given product? What did they hope for? Data doesn’t give us insights into these questions, nor does it explain a consumer’s expectations, even their satisfaction with the products or services they actually consumed. The data tells us WHAT but sheds no light at all on WHY. And even then it only tells us some of the “what”.


So how can Big Data really give us an insight into the Voice of the Consumer? Just for fun I reflected on my day yesterday and tried to imagine what data I may have generated, and what a marketing analyst might make of it.

• I communicated with a number of vacation property owners in the location where I am trying to rent a house for a family reunion   vacation. I’ve never been to this place before but a lot of emails changed hands yesterday through a popular vacation home   rental site. It would be easy enough for a marketer to deduce what I’m up to here – I’m clearly on the hunt for a vacation rental.   But was I satisfied with the site? How did it compare with my expectations? And what factors triggered the decisions I did make?

• I shopped for the very first time in a high end, specialty grocery store. I paid with my Visa card so the store could deduce that I   was there and they could likely even figure out that I had never used my card there before. But why was I at the store? Why that   day? What did I buy and why did I buy those items? Did I choose them because they were on my list or because the things I set   out to buy were not available or were not what I wanted.

• I ordered 3 copies of a vegetarian cookbook from an online book seller. Why 3 copies of the same book? Why that book? Why   vegetarian? Am I vegetarian? Am I a cook? Why a cookbook at all?

Data is the consumer’s footprint, not voice.

Even if someone could somehow knit all the data together from my day yesterday together – it would still leave marketers with far more questions than answers.

Data is not the voice of the customer. It might be a customer’s footprint but not the voice. Data is a good place to begin generating hypotheses about customer beliefs, attitudes and expectations. But it is only in qualitative exploratory with customers that we truly understand the perceptions and beliefs and attitudes behind their behaviours.

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