Passive vs. Active: The Role of the Survey in a Big Data World

By the Editors

We live in a world of big data. Everything that consumers do is closely monitored and analyzed. The body of behavioral, demographic and purchasing data that exists and is available to marketers is staggering. In fact, the amount of data that companies collect on their own customers from the geolocation tracking of in-store behavior to the microanalysis of what visitors do on websites is massive. Consider that we generate 2.5 quintillion new bytes of data each day.

Increasingly, research professionals are discussing the role of passive and active data collection in the overall corporate research agenda. How do they differ and what are their individual strengths? What’s the role of surveys and concept testing against this big data backdrop? Most importantly, how can we make the most of these quickly evolving insights to improve how we do business?

The Growing Business of Passive Data Collection

One of the greatest challenges of traditional market research is getting people to opt in. Participant recruitment is an ongoing challenge for researchers, who in turn partner with vendors to get access to their panels. The more narrow a researcher’s targeting criteria or the bigger the sample size they need, the more challenging this process becomes. Hence, the appeal of passive data collection. If technologies exist that make it easier to tap into valuable information that can help grow your business, it’s a natural trend as a researcher to pay attention to. The combination of advanced passive data collection, combined with increasingly powerful computing analytics, has proven that passive data collection is a critical observational tool in the corporate researcher’s toolkit.

Other technology advances have added to the proliferation of passive data collection. Advances like the always-on nature of mobile devices and wearable technology, and the rapid advancement of correlating geolocation technology that can relay contextual, geographic and behavioral information. Technologies that allow the rapid analysis of transactional data and social listening tools that allow us to glean insights from natural conversations as they occur “in the wilds” of the internet. Biosensors and the Internet of Things—embedding this intelligence collection capacity into the very environment around us—have the potential to push passive data collection forward.

Yet against this background, one thing is increasingly clear: passive data collection is not enough.

Personalization and the Power of the Integrated Market Research Initiative

There are a number of challenges and limitations to passive data collection methods, including:

  •     Brand trust and permission: It’s absolutely essential that customers understand what you’re tracking about them. One study exploring privacy concerns and the Internet of Things revealed that 80 percent of consumers have privacy concerns, but factors such as discounts, coupons or high-value information were often enough to get them to opt-in. Permission and market research go hand in hand when surveys are involved. With more passive methods, there is the risk of privacy concerns, trust breaches and even brand damage when not handled correctly. Surveys, conversely, get a participant’s express permission before delving into their minds and the intimate details of their lives.
  •     Aggregate versus the specific: Passive data collection tends to be useful in terms of revealing insights about customers in the aggregate. But further segmentation is required to reveal the insights that are directly relevant to you and to your specific research initiatives. With active data collection methods, you can screen out non-relevant data points easily and reduce the noise so you can rigorously focus on the insights that move your business forward. It’s also important to note the passive data collection rarely answers a specific question. Instead, it helps researchers better understand the context.
  • What, but not why: Passive data monitoring also allows you to monitor the what, but not the why. For example, passive data relay via a GPS technology would allow you to see how long someone looked at a specific advertisement or a web monitoring program would reveal which button they clicked. But, it doesn’t tell you why they lingered by the ad or what prompted them to push the button. The passive data yields little to no insight into the emotional, intellectual and preferential drivers and context behind choice. And these insights are what’s most critical to building game-changing products and providing world-class customer service.

Building Multi-dimensional Research Agendas

The most successful research initiatives today are about finding insights that occur at the point of integration. Passively collected data allows researchers to form hypotheses that are informed through conversations and surveys with their customers and their broader market. Surveys can be compared against passively collected data for another level of data integrity: How do self-reported behaviors stack up against what people really do? When passively collected data reveals an interesting trend, surveys provide the vehicle to dive deep and find out why people do what they do, so that information can be used in product development, marketing campaigns and business decisions. The deepest and most transformative insights happen when surveys are used to take passive-data generated information to the next level.

Are you a marketer who is ready to launch your next survey initiative?