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Using Alternative Data for Holistic Audience Segmentation

January 18, 2022

Data…Actionable Activation 

As most marketers and researchers understand, there is a wide array of data to help solve many business objectives. However, understanding what to do with that data and how to best use it is critical. As was discussed in The Power of Alternative Data Sources presentation, lead by myself and my colleague, Andy Davidson, at a recent Converge Conference, leveraging multiple streams of data requires a bit of a mindset shift. As is often the case as researchers and marketers, we may think more data is better, but that is not always the case. A sound data strategy starts with Problem Identification, what are we trying to solve for? Next, we need to formulate an Activation Plan as well as an Insight Plan. Who/what do we need to influence to resolve the business problem? Is that through a marketing campaign, product or messaging optimization or customer experience management etc.? The Insight Plan addresses what questions need to be explored to drive activation. Finally, when the plan is in place, we turn our attention to the Data Solution required to effectively drive business outcomes. What additional data sources can help address the need, if any? 

Designing and implementing the proper Data Solution can be tricky but does not always need to come as 3rd or even 1st party data sources. Qualitative and quantitative hybrid research methodologies can also serve as the proper data solutions if implemented properly. 


How COVID-19 Has Affected Consumer, Brand Relationships 

As research professionals and consumers, we continue to deal with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. We see shifts in the way we do things on a day-to-day basis, not only in the research industry, but more importantly in the way we interact with brands. As these interactions and purchase journeys continue to change, brands need to adapt to ensure they are meeting consumers’ needs accurately. Given many options and shifts in the marketplace, a solid way to identify and understand these changes is through consumer segmentation. 


Consumer Segmentation Methodologies for Data Analysis 

Segmentation methodologies come in many different sizes and flavors, but at the core we are looking to group sub-sets of a population into smaller, more homogenous groups. These segments may have dramatic or even nuanced differences that require specific messaging, identification of unmet product needs or overall desires throughout a purchase journey. Segmentations can seem straightforward at times but can also be quite complex, specifically when developing the Activation Plan (who/what do we need to influence) and the Insight Plan (what questions need to be explored). A quantitative survey is typically the main vehicle for collecting the answers to all these questions, but ensuring all possible angles are addressed in one concise survey can be tough and lead to a lengthy survey. 


Hybrid Segmentation for Data Collection – Quantitative and Qualitative Research 

In the spirit of leveraging additional data solutions to create a more holistic picture, Big Village has turned to a Hybrid Segmentation model. Our hybrid methodology leverages Hives (online, qualitative, focus group communities) and a typical quantitative survey. While Hives, or any qualitative research, may not seem like a typical use case of alternative data solutions, it adds color and tells a more complete and holistic story, which is the goal of any data enrichment effort. 


The Benefits of Adding Qualitative Research to Your Study 

Adding a qualitative phase to a segmentation study has several benefits. 

  1. Questionnaire Development – Through qualitative IDIs, focus groups or online communities, researchers gain valuable information on topics or areas that would be entirely avoided in quantitative surveys. It can be tough to see the forest through the trees sometimes. By conducting qualitative research, researchers gain insights on consumers’ needs, desires, and potentially areas that are not nearly as important as we may think. We may also understand how to ask questions in the language of the consumer, increasing the question relevance and mitigating a disconnect when answering the survey. These insights help create a more relevant, concise and actionable survey for the quantitative phase.
  2. Persona Development – One of the challenges of modern segmentations is high dimensionality that leads to a huge number of possible solutions to any segmentation problem. Having preliminary insights from a qualitative phase can be very helpful in choosing the best and most actionable solutions and key discriminators among many possible solutions.

    Understanding that insights from qualitative research may be generalized from small sub-sets of a population, it can still provide valuable insights in validating or debunking pre-conceived hypotheses about the population. At Big Village, we have several use cases that have allowed us to segment the population almost entirely from the qualitative phase and then confirm and enrich the personas in the quantitative phase through profiling. 

      • The qualitative phase can be beneficial when executed before or after the quantitative phase. 
        • When the qualitative phase is put before the quantitative phase, it can help enhance or guide questionnaire development as well as early persona/segment creation. 
        • Leveraging qualitative research after the quantitative phase can further enrich the defined personas when a segmentation solution is created in the quant phase. Often, a typing tool can be leveraged to identify the segments in qualitative screening and can then address any gaps or specific questions of given segment(s) that may still be unclear from quantitative profiling.
  3. Agile Research – Speed and efficiency in research is critical. Adding multiple phases to research does not have to add time and costs to a project. As mentioned previously, survey development is most critical when executing a segmentation study. If your research and client teams are struggling to create a survey that address all aspects of a consumer profile, it may be more efficient (both costs and timing) to move to a hybrid (qual+quant) methodology. Allow your consumers to guide questionnaire development through qualitative research. What is important? What is not? Where does the quant need to dive deep vs. briefly touch on? A hybrid approach can actually reduce quant segmentation time by making the whole process more efficient at every stage – by providing inputs for the questionnaire design, help identifying the best solution and reducing iterations as well as providing more clarity on personas beforehand. A qualitative study can be executed and delivered in 1-2 weeks. Alternatively, you could otherwise take 2 or more weeks going back and forth on questionnaire development and still miss critical points in the survey and/or have an extremely long and costly survey. With a focused and efficient quant survey, as well as initial insights around personas or key discriminators of segments, the final solution and sharing of results is timely. 

Alternative data solutions are the here and now of market research and understanding how these data solutions drive your business outcomes are critical. There are seemingly endless streams of data available, but in the Hybrid Segmentation approach, we simply add a qualitative research methodology to get smarter, faster results. We want to listen to the consumer in an engaging, open-ended approach rather than simply rely on a close-ended quantitative survey. The hybrid approach gives us the best of both methodologies. The overall goal of alternative data solutions and data enrichment it to understand more of the conversation and create a more holistic picture. This picture can become clearer by asking more of the right questions and listening to your consumers directly, which qualitative methods facilitate. 


Going Beyond the Segmentation Solutions to Enrich Each Segment 

Now that you have a holistic segmentation solution, what do you do with it? What’s next? How, as researchers, do we arm our clients to activate these segments effectively?  

Big Village can help provide recommendations on how to effectively message and activate target segments, and can also provide access to syndicated data solutions to further enrich each segment persona with Audience Intelligence. 

Through advanced machine learning algorithms, Big Village appends client specific segments to our Audience Intelligence platform. This data enrichment continues to create a holistic story of each persona by illustrating media consumption habits for each segment and the ideal media mix for reaching the target segments. Is connected TV, linear TV, social media or more traditional web, radio or magazine campaigns the right mix? Audience Intelligence can inform these recommendations without taking up valuable questionnaire space. 

Click here to learn more about Big Village’s Audience Intelligence 



Written by Mike Miller, Vice President at Big Village Insights


ABOUT Big Village

Big Village is a global, full-service media and marketing services company that unites culture and commerce to move brands forward faster. We are: Driven by data. Fueled by imagination. Powered by technology. Founded in 2005, Big Village has global headquarters in New York and 16 offices across North America, the UK, Europe and Asia-Pacific. Big Village empowers clients to outperform in the present and win in the future with its vast range of marketing solutions including – insights, creative, media, data and technology. Find out more at and follow @Big Villageworldwide.