Big Data vs. Small Data: Finding the Data that Matters

Big Data vs. Small Data: Finding the Data that Matters

“Study the science of art. Study the art of science. Develop your senses — especially learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else.”

It’s a safe bet that Leonardo da Vinci probably wasn’t referring to marketing data when he made this observation five hundred years ago. Nevertheless, the sentiment rings true for artists, scientists and marketers alike. If data collection and interpretation were easy, everyone would excel in both fields. Mastering the art form of data interpretation, it turns out, isn’t quite as easy as it seems. And even more surprisingly, the answer might not lie in big data after all.

Thinking Smaller

We’ve all heard about the power of big data — how it helps businesses to learn more about their customers, how it enables companies to reach consumers in new and innovative ways. The truth is that Big Data isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

The problem is that Big Data is, well, too big. The idea of data-driven marketing compels marketers to collect every conceivable piece of available information about their respective customer bases. This leads to a classic paralysis-by-analysis situation. When you have an endless stream of data coming your way, how do you break it down? And once you break it down, how do you take action on that data? After all, there’s always more data coming in, which may change the picture you have the consumer, and your reaction has to be fast, sometimes instantaneous, if you want to reach the consumer.

The key, it turns out, is to think smaller. You don’t need to go through a customer’s life story in order to effectively market to that individual. Instead, think about how you can use small data — the metrics that really dictate where your marketing should go.

This makes sense on virtually every level. Today’s marketing is all about individualization, and you can’t tailor your marketing at an individual level if your data interpretation strategies require week-long data gathering sessions before you can implement a strategy. You need to get to where customers are now, and the best way to do that is to pick up on the actions people are taking in present day. It’s those things that move consumers down the path to purchase you need to focus on — and you don’t require massive amounts of every kind of data to do so.

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What Data Matters?

Just because data is available doesn’t mean you have to worry about every last piece of it. That’s the crux of the Big Data vs. Small Data dilemma. You don’t want to miss out on anything that will help you to better market to your audience, but at the same time, collecting too much data will just bog down your systems and make it harder to find insights that will really move the needle.

Consider the email list sign-up form. It’s not uncommon for marketers to, in the process of taking people’s email addresses, ask several additional questions that may or may not be related to the purpose of this email list. As it happens, these extraneous questions only serve to alienate the potential customer. Furthermore, the additional data may not be as helpful as you think; even if it’s something you want to know, it can be asked as the individual moves closer to a purchase. When it comes to the initial stages of consumer interaction, less is more.

Small Data focuses on consumer intent. That is to say, look at the actions of your consumers and try to figure out the motivations and endgames of those actions. Doing this will help you to not only understand what your customers want, but why they behave in certain ways. The more you analyze data from this perspective, the easier it will be to paint a full picture of your typical customer, from their first interaction with your brand to their eventual purchase, then create opportunities for that consumer to engage with your company when and where they want.

From there, the sky’s the limit. You can segment your audience based on certain behaviors or tendencies, which is the ideal way to organize your marketing in the era of individualization. In other words, you don’t have to rely on outdated, and overwhelming, Big Data strategies. Additionally, you’ll be able to see which marketing avenues really resonate with your audience. Just as important is your ability to see what platforms don’t work. This will help you to properly allocate your resources so that all of your marketing activity moves consumers down the path to purchase — and so you don’t waste time, money and manpower on marketing mediums that aren’t relevant to your audience.

Data Interpretation — an Art and a Science

Let’s revisit our quote from Leonardo da Vinci. The archetype of the ultimate Renaissance Man, da Vinci considered himself to be more of a scientist than an artist. And although da Vinci made a significant impact in both mediums, history remembers him primarily as an artist. However, it’s not hard to see that he was both an artist and a scientist at the same time.

The same can be said about marketing. It’s clear that data interpretation is both an art and a science. There’s a science to collecting data — the right data that will make your marketing operation run smoothly and efficiently. But there’s also an art to using that data to reveal the story of the consumer. Anticipating buyer intent, knowing what buttons to push and understanding when to push them — that’s art. It’s no different than a musician knowing his or her audience and performing accordingly.

If there’s one universal fact we know about modern audiences of all shapes and sizes, it’s this — they don’t just want to find out about products. They want to be told stories and they want to tell their own stories. People want to be involved with the products they buy, and they want to feel as though they’re understood by the companies with which they do business. You can’t reach that level of understanding unless you’re looking for the right data — and more importantly, unless you’re doing the right things with that data. And you won’t accomplish either of those if you’re bringing in too much big data and forcing your marketing department to spend its time sorting through figures that don’t translate directly to the bottom line.

The modern day marketing Renaissance Man or Woman is one who combines data collection, data interpretation and compelling storytelling. These are the cornerstones of effective individualized marketing in 2017, and they’re essential for any business that wants to truly optimize the customer experience. Understanding the motivations of your customers will help you to fill in the blanks and zero in on the right data to collect. Once the pieces are in place, let your data do the work and identify ways you can use your information to move consumers down the path to purchase. By focusing on small data, you’ll see big results.

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