The real asset of small data – getting granular unearths opportunities

Pip Stocks

Pip is the founder of BrandHook, an award winning Keynote Speaker and Thought Leader. She has worked on both agency and client side having started her career in the UK in 1992. After working in agencies such as Saatchi’s and Grey Advertising in London running Global Proctor and Gamble business, she was appointed as marketing manager for a new Virgin launch, Virgin Energy, a Branson startup. Before starting BrandHook, Pip was the brand and communications strategy director at Carat, where she undertook extensive consumer insight, brand and communications planning for Cadbury Schweppes, Fonterra, Nintendo, Just Jeans, HBA and GlaxoSmithKline brands.

When most marketers use the word ‘data’, what springs to mind are large sets of numbers, Excel spreadsheets, cloud-based IT systems and complicated algorithms. Big data speak is the mot du jour. There is even a big data Week in London called the Festival of Data.

In our opinion, most companies have been blinded by the trend towards gathering big data, and few are using it well. At the same time, with big data taking over meetings in most marketing departments, it feels like the more intimate conversations with consumers/customers that deep ethnographic type work uncovers has been lost.

What most forget is that data can also be small; the granular nature of that data can open up opportunities big data cannot. There are three reasons why you should invest in smaller, more granular data programs:

  • Getting granular delivers better innovations
  • Building a brand experience that delivers what your consumers want needs intimacy
  • Making sense of people’s chaotic path to purchase requires the why

Getting granular delivers better innovations

Professor Richard Foster from Yale University says: “The average lifespan of a company listed in the S&P 500 index of leading US companies has decreased from 67 years in the 1920s to just 15 years today.” Constant innovation and finding new ways to remain relevant are key.

Deep diving into people’s lives and understanding their moments of friction is the only way to drive meaningful innovation, and small data is pivotal to that. Digging, building, iterating and finessing ideas with your consumers is the best way to build great products or services that add value to their lives.

Building a brand experience that delivers what your consumers want needs intimacy

In Martin Lindstrom’s book Small Data, he tells the story of Lego’s business turnaround by getting intimate. While the company is highly successful today, a decade ago it was close to going bankrupt, with 2003 profits down 30 per cent on the previous year.

Relying heavily on big data, Lego changed the size of the small, tiny bricks to huge building blocks because the numbers said the rise of the fast-flippant generation would kill its time-consuming products. That saw profits fall another 10 per cent in 2004.

So the company decided to go into the homes of consumers across Europe. What happened next is key to LEGO’s success story.

An iconic moment was when Lego staff met an 11-year-old German boy, and asked him, “What are you most proud of?” The kid replied back, “This pair of sneakers.” He showed them an old, worn-down pair of sneakers. Then he told them why. He said, “Well, because it shows I’m the best skater in town. If I slide down the skateboard, I am number one, and this is my evidence.”

The lightbulb went off. Lego executives realised the importance of skill and that by mastering a certain craft, children would attain ‘social currency’ among their peers. After refocusing its strategies, the brand re-designed its products to ensure young customers could build Lego cred. That decision saw the business rebuild its brand and become the world's largest toy maker.

Making sense of people’s chaotic path to purchase requires the why

It was easy to map the path to purchase in the old days because it was so linear. Today, this is chaotic and ever changing. Big data can help start to frame people’s behaviour, especially in the digital world, but there are gaps.

Head of data and customer strategy at Vicinity Centres, Genevieve Elliot, spoke at our recent Closing the Gap Melbourne book launch and reminded us of the importance of small data when it comes to understanding a consumer’s purchase behaviour.

“Our data was telling us there was a particular area of one of our centres that was underperforming in terms of store traffic,” she explained. “We tried offers and coupons to try to attract people to those areas but found that they didn’t work. What we needed to do was get a more personal understanding of the cause of this traffic shortfall.

“It turns out after consulting shoppers at a one-to-one level, that the stores in this section of the centre were not catering to the required sizes of the women most likely to be centre visitors. Without the granular understanding and relying on the data alone, we would never have understood the problem that faced shoppers was not one of location or centre management, but of the disconnect between the stores and the customer."

Don’t get me wrong, clearly capturing data on a large scale is good for framing a marketing problem and looking for correlations or actually delivering a personalised and relevant customer experience. But how you do that relies heavily on building intimate knowledge of your customers. This closeness allows you to:

  • Explore the ‘why’ that the numbers have framed
  • Dive deeply into people’s emotions and attitudes
  • Understand what is happening in real time and real life
  • Build a hypothesis that can then be used to mine the bigger data

So what might some of these things look like, or more importantly what signals should you look for?

Fruit in fruit bowls, flowers in vases, towels in bathrooms, cookbooks in kitchens, the expression on a face or an intonation in a voice… all these small details can tell you a lot about what is really going on in someone’s life.

When you are in people’s homes, look at the kinds of pictures they have on their walls or what is stuck to their fridges as it can tell you a lot.

We recently spoke to families with very little extra cash but who had clearly spent a fortune on framing pictures of their children. It told us a lot about how they wanted to express their love for their family. Or if you are in the home of people talking about fashion, see if their actual wardrobe fits the one they are telling you about.A young man was telling us about his ‘pulling’ suit. When we asked to see it, it didn’t look like much to us but his face said so much about how he felt when wearing it – an outfit that made him feel on top of the world.

Most marketers today have forgotten the importance of being present with their consumers. If you want to find the real opportunities and grow your brand, you need to get granular.

Tags: data-driven marketing, marketing strategy, brand strategy

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