As GLOBAL companies attempt to decode consumer BEHAVIOUR, there’s one man who insists that bigger isn’t always better. When it comes to DATA, the devil really is in the DETAILS.
on the importance of small data
You’d expect that anyone who, in the name of consumer research, has visited over 2000 homes across 77 countries in the last decade would have picked up a thing or two about human behaviour. But, as branding expert and small data collector Martin Lindstrom will tell you, this is only the case if you know where to look. From the creation of his first advertising agency at age 12 to the watershed insights he’s provided for brands such as Lego, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Nestlé and Red Bull, Martin has no shortage of experience to back his call for more focused and attentive consumer research.
In order to bridge the gap between giant companies and individual users, Martin packs a suitcase and visits consumers wherever they may live: from everyday German homes to isolated spots in rural Russia. Martin’s take-home clues have been turned into such significant insights, they’ve even secured him a spot on TIME magazine’s Most Influential People list. Here’s why he thinks the smallest things give the biggest clues.
WHEN I WAS 12 YEARS OLD, I WAS A HUGE FAN OF LEGO.
So what I did was – as you do when you’re 12 years old – I built my own ‘Legoland’ in the backyard of Mum and Dad’s garden. And, no one really showed up, so I went down to the local print office and had them [come on board] as a sponsor and on day number two, I had 131 visitors show up. The only problem was that visitor number 130 and visitor number 131 were lawyers from Lego suing me. No kidding. They said it was their brand and I said, ‘No, it’s my brand, I bought all of these boxes’. So, we did a deal that I was to start working for Lego.
VERY FEW COMPANIES, IF YOU ASK THEM, HAVE REALLY GOTTEN ANYTHING OUT OF [BIG DATA].
Most companies have instead become more addicted to more data because they need more data to verify more data. That’s really the frustration [point] we’re at right now. Companies have completely lost contact with consumers because they’re fooling themselves into thinking data will help them to show those issues.
YOU HAVE TO REMEMBER THAT BIG DATA IS ALL ABOUT CORRELATIONS:
It’s all about finding billions of data points and trying to find the correlations between them. There [are] two issues with this. First of all, you need [a] hypothesis in order to find out how you mine all [that] data, because you can’t just look at the data and say, ‘I find it confusing,’ you need to find out what you’re going to search for and then notify whether it’s right or wrong. That’s tricky because most people don’t have the insight to do that so what you end up with is a lot of data. The second thing really is that data rarely describes… you as a person. If you have a boyfriend, I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t describe him as being one metre, 73cm tall and the colour of his hair being colour 5062. The reality is that big data really is describing people like that.
HUMANS ARE AN ODD SPECIES – QUITE OFTEN WE LIE A LOT [AND] BIG DATA IS NOT NECESSARILY PICKING UP ON THAT.
If you take your Facebook account or my Facebook account, that is portraying not who you are but who you would like to be seen as, so a lot of the online data we are sharing is not necessarily who we are.
IF YOU ARE SITTING IN A CAR AND [HAD] A STUPID IDIOT IN FRONT OF YOU WHO IS DRIVING LIKE MAD,
you would scream and you would shout and say the worst things you possibly could say to that person. [At that moment], you may not be that person you really are: you are one side of the story. This is the kind of data big data is picking up when you have your online profile going on, but it doesn’t really reveal who you are and what your true needs are. The reality is that big data has a tendency to pick on one side of the story which is perhaps your rationale behaviour, but there’s an entire emotional behaviour that was not picked up by that. In the future we will see a trend, which is going more towards [the] need to have that counter balance and that will create competitive advantages.
first of all, it’s cheap and that means that small businesses can do it. Small data also allows that blank space of creativity, once picking up all those clues in consumer homes… we add another twist or another dimension to your brand or your product or your service [that] the competitor would rarely think of, because you allow that creativity in the process. We are in a very competitive society right now where, more and more, we need to find these points of differentiation.
WHEN YOU GO INTO A NEW CULTURE, THE BEST WAY TO DO [RESEARCH] IS TO TAKE A HAIRCUT.
It really is to go down to that local hairdresser to talk to them and hear their views about the local culture… to talk to those folks, or to other people who can give you a very subjective view of the local culture and what the heartbeat is of that culture in that moment, that will help you put things into a perspective which really is your starting point. Once you do that, you spend time in homes and there you take a tonne of photos, but what you’re looking for is the ‘out of balance’. You have to remember that we’re all out of balance: maybe I feel too awake, maybe I feel I don’t have enough friends or I need to have better friends, or I feel that I’ve hit my midlife crisis and I haven’t achieved enough in my life. All of these ‘out of balances’ represent a gap or a brand opportunity.
I SAT ON THE PLANE FROM SINGAPORE YESTERDAY… AND THERE [WERE] FIVE BUSINESSMEN, ALL OF THEM PLAYING CANDY CRUSH.
That’s fine, nothing against that, but seriously, when you finally have seven minutes, do you really have to occupy your brain with stuff, just to fill it up somehow? This is the issue. It’s awkward, because that space, that time we once had for ourselves, actually allowed us to observe, and that means to be able to see new opportunities; it allowed us to be present, that means to interact with people and invite more people into our lives. Most importantly, it allowed us to be bored, and boredom is creating creativity, and we’re never bored anymore.