Last week I gave a talk at the excellent SPARK Boston event along with some other marketing heros of mine including CC Chapman and Kyle Lacy. Of course the topic was Small Data, with a brief history of the topic and a drill down into my thoughts about the movement providing key inputs into a new design philosophy. I also teased the new mobile app my colleagues have been building with the smart folks from Raiz Labs – which provides a great use case for small data in action.
You can check out my entire presentation and a few highlights of our new app in my SlideShare below. Enjoy!
The small data movement continues to gain followers. In fact, just in the past couple weeks we’ve seen articles in a wide range of publication including Ad Age, CITEWorld (smart data!), InformationWeek India, RetailWeek, and the SmartData Collective, as well as new opinion pieces on the problems with big data in the New York Times and FT magazine. Meanwhile one of the more popular sessions at Adobe’s marketing summit tackled the topic and featured my former colleague Scott Liewehr who reviewed findings from the study we did at DCG last summer (see nice recap of the session by Trueffect here).
As I’ve discussed over the past 2 years, many of the benefits of thinking small focus on making personalized insights more pervasive via new, smarter devices, tools, and apps. Bringing big data down to size helps both decision makers and “everyday” business users or consumers find (just the right) information/content they need, in a format that makes it super clear and easy to take action. This to me is the essence of what it means to be data-driven, and in many ways is powering the excitement around wearable technology like Pebble, Fitbit, and Google Glass.
So, for consumers, small data continues to be about connecting (with data and peers), convenience, and portability. Yet for businesses looking to tap the power of big data for everyday decision making, it’s also about speed. In fact, one could argue it’s mostly about speed and being faster to market and more responsive to customer needs. How so?
As brands strive to be more data driven in their product development, marketing campaigns, and experience design, thinking fast means getting actionable insights in minutes and hours vs. days and weeks as we’ve become used to in “traditional” BI and Big Data (thanks to having to wait for IT resources or our neighborhood data scientist to pay us a visit!).
In today’s business environment, it’s increasingly tough to justify these bottlenecks. Especially when many business users are already part of the way there with tools like Excel or Tableau, and others have seen the potential of a small data approach via their experiences with consumer apps and Websites.
The bottom line? When social and mobile are the rule, and data increasingly drives competitive advantage, speed, and being more responsive, is the new “big.” For business users, this starts with being ruthlessly focused.
Staying Focused to Move Fast
Moving fast, failing fast, even being an agile fast follower, are all proven business strategies. This is the case for organizations in growth industries, and especially for leaders who need to deal with external competitors as well as internal adversaries like budget cycles or organizational inertia. But to go fast, you need to have focus. And think small (and fast), when it comes to data access, discovery, and delivery.
In business, being focused is critical to bringing benefits of big and small data to the broadest set of users. And often requires that we reduce scope to just the essential questions/algorithms/visuals needed to help business analysts and their peers understand the essence of their data and optimize campaigns and experiences in near real-time.
Building on our small data design principles, this means striving for simplicity in our tools, being smart “enough” to handle role-specific tasks, being responsive in terms of portability AND delivering immediate value, and making it easy to compare notes and socialize findings.
Customer Analytics for the Rest of Us
Digging deeper, if we review our definition for small data, the last part (be accessible, understandable, and actionable, for everyday tasks) effectively becomes our checklist for designing and evaluating prospective customer analytics tools that are geared to the non-data scientist and everyday sales, marketing, and service tasks (like Actuate’s BIRT Analytics), as follows:
- Is it fast and simple to access all the data we need – from CRM, ERP, Web, campaign tools, social channels, and other sources – to create a true picture of customer and market needs (and easy to clean the data if needed)?
- Can non-technical users explore, enrich, and understand this multisource data in one place – creating an analytics “sand box” as Boris Evelson from Forrester has called it?
- It is easy for business analysts to create visualizations, share findings, and apply insights in new campaigns and experiences (via workflow and connectors) without needing expert assistance?
- Are common “everyday” tasks/use cases like segmentation, cross-sell campaigns, or social/Web targeting supported – and are there pre-build algorithms tied to these use cases?
Moving fast shortens the time to value, and allows more time for socializing insights and field-testing new campaigns and offers (as a type of “rapid prototyping” perhaps). Doing so requires simpler and smarter tools, and removing IT bottlenecks. But most importantly it means putting the power of advanced analytics in the hands of everyday business users.
Whether it’s a great slogan like ’15 minutes could save you 15%.’ Or a clean, functional design from Apple, Dyson or Swatch. Simple sells.
Sometimes the medium – think Twitter or a TED talk – forces us to get to the point and think simple when it comes to communication. 140 characters or an 18 minute session drives a certain structure in our storytelling, and rewards brevity. But even when we have the luxury of rich media like online video or full-length feature or e-book, it pays to think small in our content marketing as well. Not just in terms of short segments or chapters, but also format (think the ‘MyFive’ videos used to promote Inbound Marketing Summit – like this cool one from my friend Chris Brogan), delivery and takeaways.
Speaking of video, an interesting trend appears to be emerging when you look over ComScore’s U.S. Online Video Rankings: the average online video is getting shorter! Starting in June, 2012, it was 6.8 minutes; in July and August, 6.7 and by September it was down to 6.4 minutes. Also, if you’re creating short-form videos, there’s a really good chance they will be watched first on a mobile device. Which is why a mobile-first philosophy, discussed in my latest Forbes.com piece with Mark Fidelman, is a key pillar of small data design.
And if you’re writing copy, or an article or a social post, ‘saying it short’ is a great approach, as outlined in this excellent post on the Beyond PR blog from last year. Of course it also helps to start with an attention-grabbing message, headline or statistic that sets the context as Kare Anderson points out in her fantastic (and brief!) piece for HBR last December.
So, if you want to get your viewer’s/reader’s/buyer’s attention via great content and communication – think simple, think smart (what does my audience really need to know? How can I relate my content to an example or slogan they already know?), and design/create your story or multi-channel campaign for users on the go.
Did I get your attention?
Large organizations are in love with big data and big analytics. In fact, back in March, IDC forecast that the big data technology and services market is expected to grow from $3.2 billion in 2010 to $16.9 billion in 2015, while it’s been reported that Deloitte estimates the size of the big data market at $1.3-$1.5 billion in 2012. Yet many employees aren’t equipped to harness these insights in their everyday decision making. And perhaps even worse, many executives and boards are still oriented towards an ‘inside’ data view vs customer or employee engagement type data that has increasing value as social and mobile networks take off, as Barry Libert argues.
Meanwhile, in the consumer world, brands like Amazon, Apple and Nike are shifting their own big data engines into high gear to deliver more personalized offers, recommendations and experiences that drive loyalty and sales.
What’s the connection? While companies (and computers!) like big data. Most people only need small data. Not only in terms of what is ‘good enough’ when it comes to the size of the data set. But also in terms of:
- Delivering simple, consumer-style, self-service apps and devices vs. complex toolkits,
- Providing context-driven, highly accurate answers and explanations (note I said answers, not data),
- Applying the latest Responsive Web Design and social marketing techniques to deliver a great experience across all Web-enabled devices and sharing channels.
Google may do this better than anyone currently when it comes to consumer applications. And on the business front, one can argue that Salesforce has done the best job to-date blending enterprise functionality with social insights and Web-style ease of use to create CRM solutions that your typical employee actually wants to use.
Of course other vendors, brands and investors can benefit from this small data approach, if they focus on creating simple, smart, responsive, socially aware tools and solutions.
Who is driving this small data revolution – even if they don’t know it yet? In terms of tools, my list would start with the new generation of speciality social analytics and business intelligence providers like Bluefin Labs, GoodData, NetBase, QlikTech, and Visible Technologies. In future posts I plan to explore these companies and other vendor categories, look at the role of rich media in both creating and delivering insights to the right audience, and highlight organizations like Nike who are leading the way in taking a small, localized view of big data. I look forward to hearing your thoughts and welcome recommendations on who I should spotlight in future posts.
thanks for stopping by!