Why Big Data is a Small Idea: And why you shouldn't worry so much

Stephen P. Needel
Advanced Simulations


I recently presented a paper (Needel, 2013) in which I, somewhat facetiously, looked at the questions surrounding Big Data through the prism of religion. My reason for taking this perspective was twofold. First, it let me be funny, and it's always more satisfying when you can amuse an audience while making a point. Second, and much more important, is that there is a loud, vocal, swarm of converts to the Big Data movement. This group is almost apostolic in their fervor of telling us why Big Data will fundamentally change how we do marketing research, how we think about marketing research, and how marketing research is viewed in the corporate world. As they go on and on, which I'll try not to do today, I'm usually thinking, "not so much".

The proselytizing began, in part, at a panel discussion at last year's ESOMAR Congress (Passingham et al, 2012). While ostensibly about data privacy, much of the talk and the follow-up social media posts focused on claims that have since become a mainstay of Big Data adherents' manifesto. In particular, there is the belief that the marketing research world will be overtaken by interlopers who are coming in through the back door using Big Data as their entry pass. Many, including Greenbook blog's editor, Lenny Murphy (2012), have suggested that companies like IBM, SAS, and Google will be taking control of the industry (indeed, he hints at times that maybe they already have).