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The Futurist: Putting equal importance on the big and the small

The idea of big data is compelling be it in uncovering hidden shopping patterns of your customer, predicting the next
election or deciding where to focus your advertisement spend.

With all the steam coming out of the big data hype machine, marketers seem to lose their view of the big picture. In many cases, big data is overwhelming for everyone not being a data scientist and only useful if you can retrieve
actionable insights and have the resources and authority to execute in real-time.

Are we as marketers ready for this and equipped with the necessary tools, infrastructure, and resources to fully leverage big data? Or are we at the risk of jumping on the band wagon too early, and stumbling into the pitfalls?

Big data is data, and data favours analysis over emotion. It is hard to imagine data capturing emotional qualities we all value and need as marketers to appeal to our customers, and “read” their reactions. There is always a risk of misinterpreting the patterns shown by big data and drawing causal links where there is in fact merely random coincidence. Sales data may show a rise following a major sporting event, prompting you to draw a link between sports fans and your products, when in fact the increase is due to more people in town. This could be equally dramatic after a large live music event or a shift in public holidays.

Small data, on the other spectrum, is data in a volume and format that makes it accessible, informative and actionable. It can be nonverbal signals, gestures, likes, hesitations, and speech patterns. Small data connects people with timely and meaningful insights that can either be derived from local sources or big data but then it needs to be packaged in order to be accessible, understandable, and actionable for everyday tasks.

So how can we work with both – big and small data – and maximise our investment rather than diluting it? Maybe it is a matter of defining your objective first and put this into perspective to what kind of brand you are marketing.

Kevin Roberts, previously CEO of the advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi, is a firm believer that great brands have two advantages. Firstly, they evoke respect for their technological performance, durability, and effectiveness like for automobile or engineering companies. And big data can support the decision making process on where to focus your next investments. And then, there are brands like Disney, Coca Cola or Apple that evoke love and emotions. The question marketers need to ask themselves is if big data can help to increase the love for these brands.

Big data can analyse the existing behaviour. But it will not tell you what is not there yet and what might be the key to the heart (and wallet) of the consumer. In a world when everything is available 24/7 with a click, shopping in a brick and mortar environment mainly has social benefits as it gets consumer off their screens.

Even though most of us continue browsing the web and our social media channels while shopping, stores provide a community feel. In addition to that it serves the need of tactility, the human desire to feel a garment or product which is why a number of online retailers start opening pop up stores all across the globe.

The last mile of big data is where value is created, opinions are formed, insights are shared and actions are made, by non-data scientists, on a daily basis. By simply focusing on big data and letting data scientist analyse them, marketers are at the risk of missing those crucial moments of observing their customers and uncovering
something new and valuable about them, their brand, or a need that they did not even know was there.

If you really want to understand your consumer, big data will offer a valuable but incomplete solution and – in the long run – the pre-occupation with big data might prevent you from gather high quality insights. As marketers, let’s aim to do a better job collecting and verifying insights we already have and discovering their meaning in the contest of the challenge or task at hand.

The writer is Katharina Pohl, former head of marketing at Cotton On Asia.

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