Nielsen’s Legacy: Tons of Data

Earlier this month Arthur C. Nielsen, Jr. died.  He left behind a giant and reputable market research company and a brand name recognized throughout the world.  The A.C. Nielsen company was started by his father and in its early years tracked the sales of goods through grocery and drug stores.  The company then moved into media tracking and became the authoritative source for measuring audience size and demographics.  Nearly every company with an advertising budget continues to rely on Nielsen data to determine where to advertise and how much to spend.

Nielsen’s legacy is that he demonstrated the value of collecting and tracking data, and lots of it.  Every item we purchase is now logged, counted, and tracked.  Every television and radio show is tracked for how many viewers it has and in what markets they live.  And of course everything we do on the Internet is recorded and tracked.  Even our bodily locations are tracked via GPS or cell phone signals.  Most market research firms today generate the bulk of their revenue simply by collecting, tracking, tabulating, and reporting data.

This important legacy has left us with tons of data, growing at an exponential rate,  and a monumental challenge of how to synthesize it and move beyond mere tabulation and reporting.  The question is, how do we meet that challenge and take Nielsen’s legacy to the next frontier?  In our view, it will involve two key efforts:

1.  Understanding data in much deeper ways and analyzing it with data mining tools, new algorithms, and new approaches that go beyond traditional statistics, including Bayesian analysis, neural networks, and machine-learning techniques.

2. Interpreting and communicating data in ways that are more practical, relevant, meaningful, and useful.  In other words, turning data into stories that real people, real managers, and real businesses understand and can use.

To be sure, much of the research industry is still (appropriately) focused on implementing technologies to better manage, tabulate, and report volumes of data.  But automated tables and charts with ever-expanding levels of detail are reaching their limits of utility.  Versta Research is proud to be on the next frontier, where better interpretation and understanding of data is key.

Joe Hopper, Ph.D.

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