Synthesis Is "In"

As researchers, we can’t underestimate the power of perspective. When the Eiffel Tower was erected 125 years ago, it became the tallest manmade structure in the world and, more importantly, allowed visitors to look down over Paris for the first time; perhaps it was the first real instance of a “birds-eye view.” At the same time, artists like Picasso and Stein were pushing the limits of perspective by portraying every angle of 3-dimensional concepts in one painting or poem. In many ways, the research world today is akin to this historical period of creativity. With more data at our fingertips than ever before, we are able to observe consumer behavior from new vantage points and produce a fresh understanding of customer trends by analyzing multiple angles at the same time.

Here on the data insights innovation team at Forrester, we’ve called our multiperspective research approach Technographics 360. Officially launched this year, Technographics 360 blends Consumer Technographics® survey output, ConsumerVoices Market Research Online Community insight, social listening data, and passive mobile behavioral tracking to synthesize a 360-degree view of consumer behavior. Instead of analyzing research questions by breaking them down, we can synthesize comprehensive solutions by building our knowledge up.

Over the past year, I’ve come to realize that blending unique data sources requires a diversified skill set, critical thought about how to add value, and educational communications in project proposals and deliveries. Operating with a “learning by doing” mentality, my recent experiences have illuminated the distinct benefits of multimodal research. I’ve found that data synthesis is advantageous because:

  • The focus is on the business problem. The intention when mixing flour, eggs, and water is not to taste flour, eggs, and water – it’s to bake a cake. Similarly, multiple data sources are the ingredients for well-rounded insight; when blended correctly, the result is a comprehensive solution. Data synthesis requires that we adapt our research tools to solve the business challenge at hand and move beyond a reliance on individual techniques. Of course we have to ensure that data collection and representation stays true to each technique, but a multimodal research approach ultimately allows us to shift the focus from the mechanics of the methodologies themselves to finding insight by piecing together the 360-degree solution. For instance, the recent series of data breaches has put questions about data privacy center stage; businesses need to know how consumer attitudes and behaviors will change as a result. My research with Fatemeh Khatibloo on the evolution of privacy concerns aggregated various forms of customer insight and revealed a compelling story about companies’ need to prioritize customer-friendly privacy policies.
  • The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. No one data collection methodology is perfect – each has its limitations and inherent biases that we must contend with when analyzing output. For instance, survey data relies on often faulty respondent recall; social listening data doesn’t account for consumers who are not active on social media; mobile behavioral data is divorced from psychological insights; and online communities often yield only directional insight. However, by using complementary techniques in tandem, we can ensure that the advantages of one method outweigh the limitations of another. Ultimately, the resulting insight is more dynamic than any one methodology can offer. For example, in my recent research about the psychology of technology adoption, it became clear that consumer decision-making is as much a function of demographics and lifestyle as it is of emotions and context. A multimethodological research approach allowed me to examine each of those drivers in combination and catch counterintuitive nuances in device adoption trends.

As the plethora of consumer data continues to grow and as researchers strive for deeper, fuller, and more actionable insights, data synthesis will become increasingly critical. And, ultimately, evaluating a consumer’s lifestyle from multiple perspectives will yield a new standard of consumer understanding.