Nielsen Next

For Mainak Mazumdar, Data Is the People Behind It

<!–tasks—from–>”We measure everything.”

It doesn’t get more comprehensive than that. But that’s how Mainak Mazumdar, our Chief Research Officer for media measurement, sees Nielsen’s role in the market—one characterized by myriad options and seemingly endless variety when it comes to media consumption.

Of course, that role has grown dramatically from when we started more than 90 years ago. Video and audio options have splintered across devices, giving consumers multiple ways to watch, stream and share digital content. While these changes present significant challenges for both Nielsen and our clients, Mainak and his team of more than 300 data scientists approach each new device as an opportunity to do what they do best—deliver cross-platform, representative media measurement in a way that is accurate, timely and useful to clients.

To do so, Mainak has set his team to cracking the codes hidden within the data, unearthing interesting patterns and data points. It’s these “outliers,” as Mainak calls them, that can significantly affect a client’s ability to make accurate predictions.

“Outliers are those use cases that are most interesting—the ones that actually tell you more than the mean,” explains Mainak. “So we are always looking for outlier cases or use cases that we could study, and that actually helps us to prepare for the future.”

The key to unlocking these outliers? For Mainak, it’s simple: Keep the people at the forefront.

The People Behind the Data

With an aura of zen that comes out any time he speaks, Mainak’s approach to data might surprise you. The main focus of his high-level mindset isn’t even necessarily about data.

“We are relentlessly focused on studying people,” he says. “We are not studying machines. We are not studying your cell phone or your television. … We collect data from them, but we are interested in understanding how a person, or a household, or a society, or region, or ethnicity, interacts with media. What do you consume? How often? Whom are you consuming with? And how are you reacting to the media? These are pretty important, big principles upon which our measurement framework is built.”

“We are relentlessly focused on studying people. … These are big principles upon which our measurement framework is built.”

An avid reader of poetry and literature, Mainak breaks the mold of the expected data guy by bringing his creative side into it. To effectively measure humans and the trail of data they leave behind, you need both sides of the brain, according to Mainak. And much like poetry, data has patterns, rhythms and structures that can make or break its quality.

In Search of Outliers

Social media is a prime example of where Mainak and his team’s eagle-eyed focus has been able to unlock patterns within the data to predict trends before they happen.

“If you look at the evolution of social media as a category, we have been studying that for the last 10 years. And we have actually predicted pretty well how it’s going to influence and evolve, and how, as a society and consumers, we’re going to embrace it.”

But knowing where the social media landscape is heading isn’t something that comes strictly from looking at data. Just like the people that use those networks, it’s about understanding the platforms, differentiating features and demographics that help make them up.

“When I’m not working, I spend a lot of time on social media, especially Twitter, and I try to consume as much as I can,” says Mainak. “And I do that because it gives me insights into where the media business is moving, and how we could prepare. This allows me to understand how people are consuming media—so when we are designing our measurement systems and processes in terms of the panel and methodologies, we are better prepared.”

“I spend a lot of time on social media. It gives me insights into where the media business is moving and how we could prepare.”

That clarity has led to some massive developments in how we use those social networks to adapt our models and our expand capabilities. Mainak was heavily involved in the implementation of our Digital Ad Ratings, “integrating our national TV panel with U.S. Census data and Facebook profiles,” as he explains it. “That’s some pretty seminal work, and, from a data science perspective, it opened up a lot of opportunities.”

So while many might think that algorithms and automation will be the lynchpins to success in a future where technology and data prevail, Mainak is keeping people at the heart of the data.

“The more technology becomes all-pervasive in our lives, the more important human judgment is. And I think that’s where a true data scientist can bring both. Yes, we work with a vast, massive amount of data and glean information from it, but we also bring human judgment and interpretation and make sure we’re giving the right insights.”


* Nielsen Total Audience Report, Q3 2016



Liz Buchanan Creates Connections to Tap the Power of Data

<!–tasks—from–>The world of retail is transforming. E-commerce and technology are evolving how consumers interact with stores and brands—especially in the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) sector. In fact, current and advancing technology are facilitating this change more quickly than at any previous point in history, and that means the pace of challenge for businesses—especially large multinational manufacturers—is unprecedented.

For many, the scenario is daunting. For Liz Buchanan, our VP of sales engineering, it’s exciting. Not only is she heavily involved in advancing technology at Nielsen, her current role places her right at the intersection of tech and the FMCG sector—and working to deliver rich data sets to help solve the challenges that many FMCG players are facing.

“There’s no question that it’s a complex time for companies and our clients,” she says. “The rate of change is rapid, and everyone is looking for growth, but the dynamics are unlike any we’ve seen in recent times. To get ahead, businesses need the power of big data, and that data needs to be connected. In the end, the most connected companies win.”

And for Nielsen, Liz stresses that being connected goes hand-in-hand with being open.

“Clients increasingly need access to an array of data and analytics, so open is really the only way forward.”

“Openness is a true differentiator in today’s market,” says Liz. “It’s also a core tenant of our strategy and development philosophy because we know clients increasingly need access to an array of data and analytics, and they need the ability to combine that information with their own systems. So open is really the only way forward.”

Connecting Data with a Connected System

Liz’s current focus is on connecting powerful data sets—from Nielsen and third parties—to help clients react more quickly and accurately than ever before. And her work is part of the science behind the Nielsen Connected System, a new platform that integrates Nielsen data, client data and rich analytics to help clients act on real-time insight instead of historical performance data. For example, the integration of weather and sales data could be a game changer for companies whose business results can fluctuate due to seasonality.

“The Connected System will help our clients move away from looking at what happened and start looking at why it happened.”

“The Connected System is really a data, analytics and tech solution,” says Liz. “It will help our clients move away from looking at what happened and start looking at why it happened—and that will tell them what to do next. Companies spend 80% of their time looking at WHAT happened. We want to shift that paradigm.”

A Culture of Collaboration

But tech doesn’t just need to be built—it needs to be embraced. That’s where Liz and her team come in. She’s in charge of conveying the vision, strategy and promise of the Connected System. And much of that is based on one critical acknowledgment: No single company has every asset a client will need to effectively run its business. This key insight forms the basis for our operational strategy, which embraces openness and collaboration.


“Clients increasingly need access to an array of data and analytics, so open is really the only way forward.”


In addition to fostering a culture of collaboration, flexibility and agility, Liz explains that championing an open philosophy extends well beyond client deliverables. It extends throughout Nielsen’s organization and culture and inspires associates to think about challenges, business decisions and problem solving in new and inventive ways. And while she says this mindset has influenced the development of the Connected System and keeps the workforce invigorated, Liz believes it will also keep our business fresh, agile and adaptive as the market continues to evolve.

“The transition to open is one of the reasons I love Nielsen,” she says. “It pushes us to think differently—to flip a problem on its head and tackle it a different way. It’s something we had to do because we want to transform the way they use Nielsen data, and you can really see this in the work being done on the Connected System. It really stands as a great example of how we’re really embracing this new philosophy.”

Openness Becomes a Personal Philosophy

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As a cultural phenomenon, openness has permeated the company culture down to a team level. Staying sharp and upbeat about innovation and tech evolution amid a rapidly changing, ever-demanding landscape demands ways to unwind. For Liz, that means sharing her love of singing with her team—a love that started as a young age and inspired her to attend a top music school so she could go on to perform in college. In fact, she continues to sing in her hometown of Chicago, and that ongoing passion even sparks the occasional karaoke outing with her team.

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