The term ‘big data’ is used so commonly in research and marketing terms, you would think it’s been here forever. But actually, big data evolved from database marketing (read first efforts of targeted direct mail) in the mid to late 1980’s. This was the first attempt of marketing agencies and large corporations to begin segmenting their customer databases to create different offers based on the demographics or psychographics of their customers. Today, you will hear of CMO’s, CFO’s and even CEO’s who say they don’t make a decision without utilizing big data. And that might be a problem.
Quite often, there is so much data that marketers and others can be frozen in their decision making. In the end, marketers are spending a lot of their time arranging and sorting out the data instead of working with it, drawing the picture of the buyer and refining their efforts. It’s essentially a problem of scale. There is so much data, from so many sources, and much of it may be outdated or invalid that marketers often struggle to extract insights or acquire anything meaningful. Too much reliance on big data that shows history does not necessarily indicate future trends or customer needs. Another issue might be an even bigger problem.
How many entrepreneurs and executives today have actually met their real customers face to face in their environment? Why don’t more companies use ethnographic research in their product development and marketing approach? If sales are down at a particular store due to the ‘sales numbers’, why are they down? If you are not there to observe and talk to customers, you can’t ‘see’ that the store displays are incomplete or that sales associate training was done ineffectively. Big data analysis won’t give you those insights. Perhaps, by having a small data mentality, you can gain more insights that are often invaluable and will help you better meet the current and future needs of your customers.
If you really want to understand better customer insights beyond your big data, you are going to have to actually observe and meet your customers.
Observe better. Studying customers in their environment through observations labs or ethnographic studies is not new. But since the rise of big data and digital marketing, less and less entrepreneurs, marketers and senior executives are using these tools to actually meet and understand their customers. Big data really does not give you the little insights that make a big difference.
See trends earlier. While gathering copious amounts of data on your customers may yield some benefits, you rarely see trends in the historical data. So many companies gather as much data as possible but spend little time on emerging trends. When you meet with customers regularly, you see the workarounds and hear what they say about the competition. Also, read more trend/industry reports and spend more time with trend forecasters and futurists who seem to always know how to connect the dots.
Competitor insights. When was the last time you really researched a competitor’s product or service offerings? It’s not about you beating them but you understanding the market and your customers more intimately. Don’t put your head in the sand and let bravado stand in the way of gathering more information that could help you understand a industry shift. Shop your competition.
Creative solutions. The analysis of big data might surface potential insights which then require some sort of action. But rather than pressing your face up against the glass of big data, take a step back and observe the real opportunity or problem. You cannot come up with a key strategic creative solution until you really understand the problem.
Focus on the customer. How many entrepreneurs and company executives say this, ’Customers are our lifeblood and we do everything we can to serve them.’ Now, how many of those same people regularly meet with customers? When was the last you sat with or observed your customer? Don’t expect to have a customer tell you exactly what they want or need; they don’t always know. But customers vote with their wallets and while they may not always be right, they are never wrong.