Required Reading: The Big Deal About Small Data [Video Interview]

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In the digital age, many companies are eager to leverage Big Data to shape their futures. But, as branding consultant Martin Lindstrom argues in his new book, Small Data: The Tiny Clues That Uncover Huge Trends, there are insights that Big Data simply cannot uncover. Such was the case for Lego, for instance: In 2004, the toy company was on the verge of simplifying its products to make them more accessible to a broad audience. But after visiting the home of an 11-year-old German boy, the toy maker discovered that his most prized possession was an old pair of sneakers that, through a pattern of wear, proved he successfully completed a difficult skateboarding maneuver. This showed that kids still yearn for complexity and the rewards of hard work. Since acting on this counterintuitive finding, Lego has made its products even more complex, which has led to major growth. Lindstrom sat down with Associate Editor Oren Smilansky to explain why companies shouldn’t overlook the small stuff.

CRM: What prompted you to write this book?

Martin Lindstrom: I’m sick and tired of Big Data. Whenever I attend a conference and they mention Big Data more than fifty times, I tend to leave.... But jokes aside, there’s another dimension to this. We’ve completely lost touch with reality. I mean we sit behind our computer screens, we analyze data and reports and conclude we know everything about the consumer and human beings. But I think the reality is that we’ve actually become almost addicted to data, forgetting about the fact that if I want to understand you as a human being, I need to talk to you, [and] understand your heartbeat. I need to understand what touches a nerve in your mind, and you can’t do that with data. And brands today [are] all about emotional loyalty, but that’s fading away. We’re becoming—and we’re treated like—robots in many ways.

You’ve been researching small data for a while. What are some of the most surprising trends you’ve found?

We’re very similar around the world. What makes us different is four factors: the weather, religion, culture, and tradition. If we take those factors away, you’ll see that we’re almost identical.

But that aside, when we were analyzing people, spending time in more than 2,000 consumers’ homes, across seventy-seven different countries, we realized a couple of different things. One: I realized that the concept of transition is disappearing. This sounds crazy, but what is the first thing that you touch when you wake up in the morning? Your phone. The first thing we do is to go to work in the bed. We’re at work when we’re at breakfast, we’re at work when we walk to work, and at work we are [tending to our private lives]. So we really don’t have transitions between those different states of mind. And...that is mirrored into the way we behave and use our computers. We don’t reboot our computers anymore. We don’t shut them down anymore. Because we’ve kind of mirrored our own behavior, which means we’re expected to run. But if we don’t reset our computers, we’re also going to get slower, and that’s what’s happening with our brains right now.

This reveals an opportunity for brands. Brands in the future will give transitions. In this city [New York], we have pour-over coffee. It’s very popular here, takes eight to ten minutes. It’s crazy when you think about it! People are so busy in New York City, and they have time for a stupid cup of coffee taking eight minutes. Well, that’s because we long for a transition moment.

So transition is number one, and number two, I would say is that everything will be slower. The third thing that’s interesting right now is that we’ll notice that everything in our lives will start to be extraordinary embedded [back] into physical culture.

If you could leave companies with one piece of advice, what would it be?

It’s very simple. Move in with the consumer, live in their homes or work and experience their lives. And to make sure that every staff member in the organization gets that opportunity at least once or twice a year. If you do that, you actually create that empathy which [ensures that] the staff understands who’s paying their salary, and live by the mind of the consumer.

Watch the full interview below:

[Produced by David Myron]

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