Risky business: why we need to keep our data sources wide

Relying too much on real-time data is a risky step, warns Newsworks' insight director.

I like reading My Media Week – it appeals to the curious (or perhaps nosy) part of my nature! It’s a bit like Through the Keyhole, getting a glimpse into the lives of people in our industry.

This week it was Matt Bush, director of agencies at Google UK. Reading through it, a report of a meeting he had with Rachel Forde from Spark Foundry caught my eye – apparently she’s "banning the use of TGI from 1 January to rely on real-time tools and insights such as Google Insights".

As someone who has worked in insight for more than 20 years, and most of those in media agencies, this surprised, and somewhat concerned me.

It is true that the digital revolution has opened up a whole raft of new ways of getting to insights, and indeed also led to new and innovative methodologies for research. However it is vitally important that generating insights should not just be reliant on one type of data.  

I have long since believed in and used the concept of triangulation. In geography, this is about navigating using several different points, so that you are confident of the direction in which you are going. In research, this is about using a number of different types of sources, to examine the consistency of findings.

Triangulation is about the combination of a number of different methodologies. Yes, it is about examining their real time behaviour using the digital tools we now have available to us. But it’s also about talking to your target consumer, understanding what makes them tick, getting to the why behind the what.

And yes, it’s also about large scale research studies like TGI and IPA TouchPoints, constructed with rigorous sample design, so that the results can be reliably deemed to be representative of the population.   

Real-time behaviour online and the decisions people make in the moment need to be examined and verified in the cold light of day, using sources that are perhaps more reflective and take time to gather.  

Also, how can sources such as Google Insights provide an ongoing, reliable and comparative view of consumption across all media, so that we can generate media insights and determine the best way to reach and influence our target consumers? I’m assuming that Rachel is not banning the use of all large-scale studies such as TGI, otherwise how are the media plans constructed? Can digital sources tell you with reasonable accuracy who watched the Diana documentary on Monday night and therefore how much advertisers should pay for it?  

It’s all very well banning the use of TGI, but what about the insights that come from the industry currencies, NRS, Rajar, Fame, Route, Barb – this last is arguably more real time but importantly it is weighted to the population, as they all are – and they all therefore provide a reliable currency for both planning and trading. You cannot separate the two.

I like to think of an insight as a fresh perspective on the relationship between people and brands that offers an opportunity for brand growth. In a complex media landscape it is more important than ever before to use multiple sources to generate those all-important insights. Real-time data is an important part of that triangulation process, but using it to the exclusion of large-scale, independent data gathering is a risky step that will contribute to a narrower view of our multi-faceted and diverse industry.

Denise Turner is insight director at Newsworks


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