Incorporating small data into your business and life
COMMONNESS - Bong R. Osorio (The Philippine Star) - January 14, 2019 - 12:00am

Who influences us to buy a certain product? When we ask this question of people online and offline, the answer invariably points to celebrities.

At the start of each year, we usually ask what is the most important megatrend that we must monitor. Ask the question of any marketing and communications professional and you will get answers like “mobile” or “social media,” but probably the first answer you get will be “big data.”

“Big data” is a term that describes the large volume of data — both structured and unstructured — that swamps a business on a day-to-day basis. But it’s not the amount of data that’s important. It is what organizations do with the data that matters. Big data can be analyzed for insights that lead to better decisions and strategic business moves.

Branding expert and bestselling author Martin Lindstrom, however, gives a different answer: to him, it’s small data. In a world obsessed by the power of Big Data, he works like a modern-day Sherlock Holmes, collecting tiny clues to help solve a stunningly diverse array of challenges. He describes the task as that of “a detective whose goal is to create a narrative.”

In his tome Small Data: The Tiny Clues That Uncover Huge Trends, Lindstrom provides two broad lessons, one the deliberate kind and the other, the accidental. The deliberate kind are those we must not overlook, like human behavior, in our hurry to download and analyze ever-larger throngs of hard facts or cold information. As the author writes, “If we want to glean real insights, big data and small data should be partners in a dance.”

The accidental lessons are those that companies are willing to give a large amount of time, effort and, presumably, money, to planning and executing programs on how to attract their next customer.

One thorough Lindstrom investigation delved into how to design a car for the Chinese market, which entailed “a global study of doors” and a Lego-based experiment with children on three continents about their understanding of speed.

Another assignment took Lindstrom deep into Mumbai and New Delhi to explore the politics of the modern Indian family for a global food maker that wanted to work out why its popular breakfast cereal was losing market share.

Lindstrom’s research derives certain principles from anthropology and ethnography. As the intro to the book says, he spends 300 nights a year overseas, closely observing people in their homes. His goal is to uncover their hidden desires and turn them into breakthrough products for the world’s leading brands. Lindstrom connects the dots in his globetrotting narrative that will fascinate not only marketers and brand managers, but also anyone interested in the infinite variations of human behavior. Here are interesting discoveries:

Lessons from a toothpaste tube. If someone crushes a tube of toothpaste and tosses it away without a cap, experience tells us they are prudent about saving money, though at the end of the day they will spend money on themselves, as if to compensate for their earlier inattention. Consumers who discard a toothpaste tube with its cap screwed down tightly seldom allow themselves to relax, and are reluctant to expose who they really are, or to indulge themselves with a luxury. Consumers who throw away a half-full toothpaste tube are, in general, less secure than people who wait until the tube is depleted.

What do our favorite sports say about us? A study carried out by Mind Lab found out that bicyclists are “laid-back and calm” and less likely than runners or swimmers to be stressed or depressed. Runners tended to be extroverted, enjoyed being the center of attention and preferred “lively, upbeat music.” Swimmers, the study concluded, were charitable, happy and orderly, whereas walkers generally preferred their own company, didn’t like drawing attention to themselves and were comparatively unmaterialistic.

10 common characteristics religions have in common. Lindstrom discovered these data after interviewing 14 leaders of the Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist and Islamic religions: In order of importance, he found that these characteristics include a sense of belonging; storytelling; rituals; symbols; a clear vision; sensory appeal; power from enemies; evangelism; mystery; and grandeur. When you think about the world’s most powerful brands like Apple, Nike, Harley-Davidson, Coca-Cola, and Lego, you realize they all make use of some, if not all, of these pillars.

Men and women have two ages:  A chronological age, and an emotional age they feel inside. Men typically conceal evidence of their younger selves in drawers, or buried inside online folders, whereas women are less embarrassed about publicly showcasing their younger selves and express it openly.

A tale of two scripts. Most remember Alfred Hitchcock as a skilled storyteller, but what few know is that the director shot his movies using two separate scripts. The first, known as the “Blue Script,” was purely functional. In it were all the tangible onscreen components, including dialogue, props, camera angles and set descriptions. The second script, which Hitchcock referred to as the “Green Script,” chronicled in fine detail the emotional arc, or “beats,” of the film he was shooting. Hitchcock relied on both scripts, but the Green Script reminded him of how he wanted moviegoers to feel, and at what point.

In doing marketing, we must have an “entry point.” It refers to those times in our lives when our identity is either challenged or transformed, among them marriage, pregnancy, first parenthood, buying a home, and the empty nest syndrome. During these periods, consumers are especially vulnerable to new perspectives, as well as new brands. We should always find an entry point, and use that to get into the hearts and minds of consumers.

Introducing a new element or object into a room could alter the direction of a conversation. It can also change the script to either a rational or emotional one. This insight has strong ramifications for rebranding. What consumers say about a brand can be controlled and in some cases reduced to a pre-prepared sales pitch. For a brand, this is critical. Imagine: 10 words that represent the heart, soul, and essence of a brand are no longer controlled by print ads or TV commercials, but by the consumers who are strongly affected by “influencers” and by “aspirations.”

Incorporating universal “moments” in your narrative can bring wonders. Very much like Kodak owning the idea of taking photographs, America Online having “You’ve Got Mail,” Apple innovating the left-to-right “slide to unlock” finger-swipe concept, Volvo promoting “safety” and Google preserving the “search” image, we must understand the essence, and weight, of every single moment between our product and the consumers we are selling it to.

Our perception of the world is almost always local. It is focused exclusively around ourselves, neighborhoods, traditions, and beliefs. But who influences us to buy a certain product, helps us form an opinion or exposes us to a brand we later use ourselves: a wristwatch, a musical genre, a facial moisturizer, a wine label? It’s not something we often think about, but when we ask this question of people online and offline, the answer invariably points to celebrities.

Every culture has its own default topics of conversation ranging from the weather to sports to food. When two people meet for the first time, what do they talk about?  How do taxi drivers greet passengers across the world, and what do they discuss during the ride? What do neighbors say when they meet in the lobby or on the sidewalk, or mothers when they meet other mothers in the park? People exchange compliments or talk about their favorite topics, but when they deviate from the script, what causes them to stray are the objects surrounding them.

A selfie can tell us more about a person than anything inside a meticulously staged bedroom. When a girl shows another girl a photo on a smartphone, the first few things she looks for are, in order of importance: Am I in this picture? How do I look? Who is standing beside me? Does the person standing beside me in this photo lend a halo effect of popularity, or is standing beside this person a social liability? Selfies it seemed, were even more important than the event or moment they were supposed to memorialize.

As always, and whether they know it or not, human beings seek balance. The faster we go, the slower, in some respects, we will become. It may not always be conscious, but unconsciously we are all seeking to redress acceleration with idling, velocity with inertia, chatter with quiet. How do we know this? Because small data is everywhere, if we know where to look.

“Being present” is important. Most of us are rarely inside the present moment. We spend a disproportionate amount of time plotting the future or revisiting past events. But when we swim, or shower, or take a bath, we have little choice but to position ourselves in the present, giving our thoughts room to float and wander. 

Creativity comes out of being bored, because that’s when you’re forced to create a story. But it also allows you to be observant, to be present. A lack of presence means we don’t see things around us, and we miss out on relevant, insight-filled small data.

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Email bongosorio@gmail.com.

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