John Iacoviello on the Value of Appended Data in Research

John Iacoviello is the Director of Market Insights at L.E.K. Consulting, a global leader in strategic management consulting. In that role, he is responsible for all primary research the company conducts on a global basis.
John has overseen numerous market research studies with Research Now SSI, primarily for strategic enterprise consulting and due diligence in private equity engagements. He has championed the use of innovative techniques such as appending client and third-party data to the survey panel or study results to uncover deep insights.
We spoke with him about these techniques, and about market research in general.
Q: How do you think technology is changing market research?
John: In all honesty, I think the idea of disruptive technology in research has received more attention than it deserves. The ideas sound glamorous and they often start with a lot of promise, but for the most part I’ve been disappointed with their execution.
But there have been some game-changers. For example, mobile ethnography has virtually eliminated the barriers to observing consumers in real-life situations. It’s always been possible to conduct that kind of research, but it used to be expensive and time-consuming; you had to hire a videographer, for example. Now it’s available to almost anyone, which has allowed us to develop a whole new approach to data collection centered around native observations. I consider that a real breakthrough.
Q: Did you have an “a-ha” moment regarding the value of appended third-party data in research, or is it something you’ve always understood to be valuable?
John: Many of us in research have been using appended data for years – viewership and readership data, for example, or in my case marrying transactional data from our clients with customer survey data. So, the idea of bringing in disparate data to enrich insights isn’t really new.
But Research Now SSI has really elevated the art. The types of data you’re making available now – in life sciences and healthcare, financial services and more –have really opened up new doors, providing a richness to the kinds of insights we can deliver to our clients that we’ve never experienced before.
Q: Without violating any confidentialities, can you give us an example of why you’re excited about the value of third-party data in your research?
John: Before I joined L.E.K. I worked in the life sciences, and I was fascinated with the idea of working with anonymized data from medical insurance claims. It allowed us to find information you could never accurately learn by asking doctors or patients. For example, you can see how often patients actually refill prescriptions, which provides a more accurate picture of how faithfully they are taking them.
It is great data, but there was no way to follow up by asking “what do you think of this therapy?” I managed to create ad-hoc solutions, but they were complicated and expensive. I simply couldn’t do it at scale, which meant I could never really get the attitudinal information I wanted to add to enrich the behavioral data.
When Research Now SSI came to me with the ability to match anonymized patient data with its panel, it was almost like the Holy Grail was in front of me. That really was an “a-ha” moment!
Q: How is L.E.K. creating better research solutions with behavioral data?
John: It comes down to three cornerstones:

  • More insights;
  • Richer insights;
  • More accurate insights.

Being able to append third-party data – particularly observed behavioral information, but other types of data as well – to survey-based attitudinal data makes the picture richer. We have more, better and more accurate data, and that’s what researchers always want.
When we have richer insights, we can be more confident in making recommendations to our clients, and they can be more confident in the decisions they will make based on those recommendations.
Q: Do these research solutions help L.E.K. and its clients gain competitive advantages, and if so how?
John: I wouldn’t say it’s a competitive advantage; I think it’s bigger than that. Years ago, I worked with a very smart person at Bell Labs who used to say that the real value of market research was risk reduction.
At the end of the day, better, richer, and more accurate information reduces the risk of making wrong decisions, and in business wrong decisions are always expensive. The more we can reduce our clients’ risk with better and more accurate insights, the more they’ll appreciate us and the more they’ll earn for their shareholders.
That’s really the ultimate benefit of these improvements in research.