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More than Big Data: Integrating Cultural Factors into Market Research / By: Vidhi Piparia


Marketing is the practice of promoting products by categorizing and filtering numerical data. After conducting market research on consumer demographics, or determining consumer preference for product distribution, this data usually gets converted into numbers that are analyzed for patterns and trends by computers, also known as big data. However, people are realizing that computational devices lack the algorithms to reveal what businesses are really interested in – lived experiences. Elizabeth Youngling, a Humanities Policy Fellow at the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, said: the “most successful brands resonate with some segment of the population’s values—we just value different things at different times and in different ways”. This idea has led to a modern shift in marketing strategy which first hopes to reveal the product’s contributions to the consumer or larger society at hand. By understanding this, businesses are then able to shape the way people think about their products.

For example, about a decade ago, an anthropologist by the name of Tricia Wang conducted research on the cell phone market in China. Wang noticed a consumer preference shift from flip phones, which Nokia dominated, to iPhones. She noticed this pattern early in the shift because she paid attention to the cultural influences in the Chinese market. Wang noticed that moving to a smartphone that had some sort of aspirational value was of priority to Chinese consumers and that even a cheaper iPhone would suffice. By adding meaning to the data through ethnographic research, she was able to advise Nokia that its business model was going to struggle. However, Nokia ignored Wang’s research and lost its market share falling to 3% when bought out by Microsoft in 2013 (Lee, 2013).

So, if you are a young entrepreneur looking to get your product or service out there, it is always important to remember that marketing is about finding ways to create value for people. For example, minority markets have $3.9 trillion of buying power, so just knowing the ethnic composition of your buyers can help guide your marketing strategies (University of Georgia, 2019). So, to help understand your target consumers better, market research and consumer feedback can help. Tai Ramirez, a young entrepreneur, took consumer feedback to Instagram polls to best appeal to their young consumer market. Through this approach, you are sure to have the most effective marketing techniques!


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