The age of small data

Every minute, we make 3.8 million searches on Google, send almost 150,000 emails and upload 500 hours of video to YouTube. The wealth of data available today, and which is being added to continuously, offers incredible possibilities in analyzing and predicting human behavior.

And yet, we’re now seeing a backlash against the value of big data. For some, narrowing people down into generalizable models of behavior can’t be squared with their belief that we’re all unique and individual. For others, the risk of false correlations and conclusions increases the more data we have. For brand managers and creators, the problem with big data is the big shadow it casts over its useful sibling, small data.

Defined as data that is human-centric, timely and meaningful, and also accessible and understandable, small data can often provide that killer insight around which you can build true brand connections. Especially when we present it in a way that has big impact.

The brand backlash

Big tech is the biggest proponent of big data. Of course, Facebook, Google and Twitter have built fantastically successful business models around it. However, we’re starting to see this model come unstuck. It’s not just privacy concerns bringing down the house, but concerns about the accuracy and conclusions of this data too.

Adidas recently changed its brand and marketing strategy after recognizing it had over-invested in paid search. The stats ‘proving’ reach, engagement and ROI convinced the sportswear company it was on the right track. Yet, when Google AdWords in Latin America went down, thereby preventing further investment in paid search, the expected downturn in traffic and revenue never materialized. Something else was happening to drive clicks.

It was at that point Adidas shifted its investment towards campaigns that drive brand and emotional connection instead.

It’s not just third-party data that can mislead us. Thanks to its Clubcard program, Tesco had more data on its customers than almost any other retailer in the world. And yet, it came close to collapse in 2014. Whatever that data was telling Tesco, it certainly wasn’t helping it win the hearts and minds of customers.

Interestingly, the supermarket’s turnaround has been masterminded by Dave Lewis, a dyed-in-the-wool marketer who drastically simplified the business by focusing on customers—and the meaning of the Tesco brand.

AT&T #HeartYourHeart

So, what does small data look like in practice? A good example is AT&T, where relentless investment into promotional communications helped to hit short term volume targets, but at the expense of declining prices, reduced customer stickiness and eroding brand equity. Landor’s insight was to re-focus the debate onto a high level, strategic perspective and showed how investment in brand communications worked to protect value, enhance customer loyalty and re-build brand equity—all of which in turn generated a better financial outcome.

Landor’s brand take-outs:

Of course, big data will continue to have its purposes, but it isn’t a silver bullet and we need to return to the era of small data to create true brand experiences. Here are our key learnings around small data and its big impacts:

1. Lots of data doesn’t necessarily support brand strategy

Whether you’re looking to drive sales, create awareness, or build trust, big data is just as likely to confuse as to clarify. Small data can often be where the killer insight is buried.

2. Small data is better at identifying and creating emotional connections

As builders of brands, we want to create connections with consumers. Small data has the advantage over big data in achieving this because it is human centric.

3. Small data is more actionable than big data

Data you can’t act on is just numbers. Small data is more likely to drive real insight that leads to different and better actions.