The Impact of Data Ecosystems on the Market Research Sector

In recent years, data ecosystems have gained in strength. The pandemic has sped up the influence of activities such as online shopping, digital wallets, content streaming, food deliveries and even digital healthcare. The world of inter-connected sets of services across multiple industry sectors delivered in an integrated customer experience is now here to stay.

What is a Data ecosystem? In brief, it is an ability to gather and combine data from numerous service providers and build value through the usage of that processed data. In the UK, Amazon is the ecosystem which jumps out immediately with its offer of shopping, TV and music. Tesco is another example offering groceries, mobile and banking services.

In Japan, even Amazon’s ecosystem is dwarfed by Rakuten. Rakuten, like Amazon, started life as an online shopping portal. Now there are 70+ businesses within the group, offering a broad range of online and offline services, including e-commerce, loyalty points, travel, digital content, financial services, mobile networks and professional sports. Animal lovers can even insure their pet dog! There is hardly any aspect of consumer lifestyle that goes untouched, unrewarded or unrecorded by Rakuten!

A successful ecosystem encourages participation through offering services with clear benefits such as economies of scale and cultivates a collaborative environment in which new ideas on monetizing data can flourish. Rakuten Group is one of only a limited number of companies have the ability or potential to possess enough data to build a successful ecosystem as the requirements are very high. Services must be provided and used by a significant population of a large nation or internationally to ensure sufficient data coverage. Also, services must remain competitive across several sectors. Acquiring an ecosystem of existing would be too costly and associated risks too high.  

So, it is interesting to reflect on what impact these vast data ecosystems will have on the market research sector.

One way to assess the impact is to begin by categorizing available data into two buckets. The first label is a familiar one, ‘Self-Reported’ such as behaviours, feelings, and opinions from market research surveys. The second category can be labelled ‘Big Data’ but is so much more. Observed data capturing behaviors, product usage, media engagement, lifestyle data such as hobbies, fashion, diets as well as a much deeper sub-set of emotional data on the individual’s hopes, dreams, fears and even the thoughts and feelings that they are not aware of themselves – a complete 360° view of the consumer.

One benefit of the ecosystem on the ‘Opinions’ category is that practically the notion of ‘difficult to recruit’ disappears entirely. When 90+% of the online population operate somewhere within the ecosystem, if they exist, they can be found. The other effect is that this data can be ‘enriched’, ‘matched’ or ‘tailored’ in consideration of the second category ‘Big Data’.

To better understand, let’s imagine a scenario of a Brand Manager for a well-known drinks brand. In the pre-ecosystem environment, the Brand Manager may limit their scope to the category of drinks they operate in. After guidance from a researcher, they may widen that view to include more categories of drinks, all drinks or even the role they play in the consumer’s life such as refreshment, socializing or fun.

However, when that same Brand Manager can access data within an ecosystem, there is no limit to the scope that can be applied. They can have a complete 360° view of the customer. What holidays do they go on? What TV shows do they like? What books do they read? What are their retirement plans? This data and more can be accessed and analysed. Using traditional methods, the research would become costly, time consuming and unwieldy with only the largest of brands being able to take on the efforts to gain the 360° view.

This does not mean the need for traditional approaches is removed. It just means that if big data is consulted first, surveys can become shorter, cheaper, and more targeted since any screening questions can be removed and invites sent only to specific pre-identified audiences. Additionally, it can also fill in gaps or ask questions that have been overlooked.

What the impact of ecosystems will be on the market research sector has not been fully understood yet. Market research needs to embrace the new structured methods, the new jargon, and the interconnectivity of the dramatically different world in which the ‘ecosystem consumer’ now lives.

Originally published on, 20th October 2022.

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