en

Small Data: Embrace your inner Sherlock Holmes

September 19, 2016

A clue that sold more oatmeal

Last Thursday I was reminded of the moment when I decided I should work in marketing. It was in eighth grade and my sweet teacher, Lis, who I clearly remember for her short blond hair and sharp fashion sense, was teaching us how to analyze imagery.

She showed us an advertisement for oatmeal. The picture showed a man and woman lying in a bed with a breakfast tray next to them. The photo was lit with sunshine and outside the window was what looked like a delightful spring day. I remember the man had a ring on.

I didn’t see the ring at first. But Lis explained that the ring was one of the clear symbols that there was stability and security in the home. It was a "clue." A clue to understand the meaning of the image. And just like a group of little Sherlock Holmeses, we used that class to look for all the other little clues in the picture. I found it really cool that a director could plant all these little clues in an image to create a mood that inspired people to buy more oatmeal. Oatmeal!

Find the small clues

My recent flashback was inspired by Martin Lindstrøm’s Small Data Symposium. Martin is admired internationally for his ability to help companies understand their customers better. He helps world-renowned companies adapt products and marketing to the customers they want to sell to.

He is looking—exactly as we did in that eighth-grade class—at clues in people's homes in order to understand them, but especially to understand all the small imbalances that we all have in our lives. He has visited more than 2,000 homes across the world to look for the keys that reveal a void, a lack, a need that is not yet covered by a service or product.

It's exactly through those needs that new brands can get a place in consumers' hearts. He calls it Small Data. Martin reminded us that we are not the people we are on social media. Of course, it’s no big surprise that we all “decorate” our public personas a bit. So we, as marketers, can’t always use the digital trails we all leave to understand our customers. We must return to the roots. We should pick up our magnifying glasses and go into the real world to collect insight.

During the session with Martin, he showed photographs of real homes across a myriad of cultures, and gave examples of how he had applied the little clues to help companies that were in trouble because they had lost the connection to customers.

The “Room of Perception” reveals imbalance

According to Martin, we all have a "Room of Perception." It is the space in our homes where we are flashing our so-called "coffee table book." It is the space that reveals who we want to show the world we are. And it hides a lot of little stories about the individual that companies should understand so they can truly create a brand that creates joy and engagement with customers.

And then he said something extremely important: This room is also where you find all the things that you do NOT find in the digital tracks. His examples are insightful, funny, and surprising in many ways, and if you are very interested in the topic, I recommend you read his book, "Small Data: The Tiny Clues That Uncover Huge Trends."

But the point is, we can’t use big data to analyze our customers if we don’t know where to start. Martin’s clear advice is that we should start by observing the customer at close range and then examine if our small data hypothesis can be explained in big data analysis.

Feel the energy of the customer

The effect of direct dialogue with customers is huge. Some of the best ideas we've had at TARGIT have come through conversations with customers. In fact, a number of TARGIT executives recently spent an hour at a strategy meeting talking about a very forward-looking customer that we had visited. It was great to feel the energy from the impression the customer had made. It tells far more than the statistics of how many of our customers have adopted the latest version of the software. It speaks of a potential and that is very motivating and inspiring.

This can be hard to remember in an industry surrounded by smart technology and lots of data points. We have so many things available digitally, it's almost eerily comfortable to just sit behind the screen and look at what products customers purchase, or which pages on the website have the most conversions, or what words are being said about the company on social media. But I clearly recognize the challenge that once data shows one thing, you can become completely unsure of your instinct, and maybe then conduct activities that you might not even believe in.

Small data before big data

Martin isn’t saying that we should forget big data. On the contrary. He simply says that too many big data projects have been derailed because the companies conducting them didn’t know what they were even looking for. They weren’t testing a hypothesis.

It's when companies combine the small data and the large data that it really gets interesting. This directly aligns with the advice we give our clients when we tell them that they must start with the metrics that really make a difference to their businesses.

the metrics that matter

There's no limit to how much data you can collect. Success with BI and analytics depends not only on the software solution you choose, but also on what you choose to do with it.

I came from the Small Data Symposium with a few thoughts about what I will do differently as a CMO:

  1. I will meet with more of our customers so I can better immerse myself in the things they appreciate and understand the imbalances that the TARGIT brand may not correct today. Perhaps that void could be filled in the future. I believe it will enhance my ability to create a relevant brand.
  2. This will be difficult, because I am somewhat addicted to my phone, but I will try to move away from the computer, away from the iPhone, and look around more in both my professional and personal life. Observe and understand the real world more than the reality we are trying to create for each other through digital media. Maybe it will be a relief.
  3. I will remind myself that our slogan "courage to act” means that decisions require courage, and the data itself does not contain any emotion or action. You can get data from all systems and combine them in multiple ways to substantiate your decision. But your decisions will always require a combination of brain and heart, and any decision requires you invest yourself. I want to pause and look around one more time before I follow the data I have available today.
The ultimate goal is not only to sell more oatmeal, business intelligence software, or whatever you are trying to sell. It’s to make more people even happier and proud to have chosen a brand that they can identify with because it meets the imbalances that exist in their lives.

Share