valuable and actionable than ever. Once, the segments constructed from surveys were largely imprisoned within research reports and Powerpoint presentations; their value dependent on the ability of media planners to match them to audiences you could actually buy. This involved judgments about whether those segments related to people who watched a particular TV show or read a particular magazine. Today, data management platforms (DMPs) have the potential to create more complete audiences through combining multiple data sources together. Through integrating research-derived segments with touchpoint data, we can identify the behavioural markers that indicate different motivations and mindsets, linking particular patterns of behaviour to what consumers are thinking and feeling. Using look-a-like modelling, we can then turn relatively small segments based on motivations, consumption occasions, needs and preferences into relevant, targetable audiences that can be combined with behavioural data, and therefore targeted at immense scale.

The fact that audience segments could be so much more actionable should encourage marketers to look beyond targeting based solely on behaviour. They should instead start by exploring new ways of understanding their audiences that can unlock growth opportunities when linked to touchpoints data. This could involve identifying those who have spent with a brand in the past but are open to spending more (as TNS worked with Holiday Inn to do, increasing bookings by 514%). It could involve identifying those with the most relevant unmet needs for a new product launch; or those that buy a brand such as Starbucks coffee every morning, but could be persuaded to buy it at lunchtime as well. By identifying how these specific people behave, and when they can be targeted through different touchpoints, we start to fill in the most fundamental Big Data black holes.

Identifying the touchpoints that really make the difference

What of the second big gap in our understanding? The ability to understand which touchpoints actually influence a person’s choices? To start answering this question, we first need a more complete picture of all the touchpoints that are involved in a person’s experience of a brand.

Things are made more complicated by the fact that our data-driven view of consumers’ digital journeys is far less complete than we would like. Cookies compile information about browsing history and provide a view of the sequence of touchpoints leading up to a purchase, but regulations, device incompatibility and the difficulties of relating cookies to individuals (rather than IP addresses) leave significant gaps in the story. Then there’s the plethora of invisible touchpoints – those that take place offline, and those that take place within walled gardens (such as Facebook), which choose not to share their individual-level data externally.

The solution, once again, involves upgrading the traditional techniques of research to infuse them more effectively with the flow of Big Data. Larger and more representative survey panels have a key role to play. When members of these panels are linked to user IDs that record exposure to brands through touchpoints, we are able to explore the impact of those experiences on key brand metrics. This can be done through surveys or by observing the impact on measurable behaviours like sales and site visits. We can then model the likely impact of exposing different audience segments to different combinations of touchpoints.

Engaging with members of a research panel has the additional advantage of making it easier to integrate different forms of data, including those from the web’s walled gardens. By developing new listening techniques (leveraging smartphones to listen to what ads a person is exposed to, for example) we can start to integrate a view of offline touchpoints as well.

A combined mission: towards data agnosticism

The data that we can now source from touchpoints has many advantages over the data we once generated through surveys. It is more representative, less prone to error in identifying who did what and when, far more immediate in providing the information that we need. In isolation, though, it cannot provide the complete, connected view that marketers need of why people behave in the way that they do.

The brands with the most complete and holistic view of their consumers will increasingly be the brands that execute the most effective marketing over both the long and the short term. They will be able to direct budget towards the people that represent the greatest growth opportunities, and they will be able to feed valid insights from their different touchpoints into both their creative and media planning. To provide this view, researchers must look beyond championing