In Praise of “Little Data”

Cathy Whitehead McIntyre, on

Clearly we live in the era of “big data”. Businesses are collecting, processing, using and storing more information than ever before. In fact, you could say that more and more companies are in the business of gathering “extreme data”. But what on earth are they doing with all that data? And how can they possibly extract real value, in the form of meaningful insights, from such large volumes of data?


The Paradigm is Shifting

In his article , David Meer describes a paradigm shift – away from management based on gut feelings and toward data-driven decision-making – and says the paradigm shift is not only already underway, but accelerating. He goes on to argue, however, that it’s better to have some information than none, and that you’d be a fool to disregard it just because it fell short of being definitive.

I agree. There’s no question in my mind that when it comes to marketing decision-making, small sample research (“little data”) can make a big difference. Little data adds the context and meaning that are missing in big data.

What is “Little Data”?

Mark Bonchek defines little data in the HBR Blog post as “…what we know about ourselves. What we buy. Who we know. Where we go. How we spend our time.” He says that little data can shift focus to help individuals achieve their goals, give people visibility into their own data, and make customer relationships more reciprocal.

It’s Personal

All of this, to me, speaks to the power of the personal – small sample research and qualitative insights provide the richer, deeper understanding that comes from exploring individual relationships between brand and consumer. It’s hearing about the personal stories and unique experiences of individual consumers that lead to the insights that can explain attitudes and behaviours, solve problems and create breakthroughs.

Full disclosure: I am a specialist in qualitative research. I believe that hearing about a company’s products and services directly from consumers, in their own words and telling their own stories, is the most powerful way to understand the customer’s experience, point of view, needs, wants and pain points. Getting personal with customers, one on one, and really hearing what they have to say helps us serve them better.

Let’s get Connected

It never fails that after a focus group there is at least one participant who thanks me and my client for giving them the opportunity to share their opinions. They leave feeling connected in a way they never would have if they hadn’t had an opportunity to share. Learning from consumers when they get personal (in the sense of sharing their experiences and their points of view), deepens our relationships with them and creates the reciprocity that Mr. Bonchek refers to.

The Power of Little Data

Little data has a real role to play in helping organizations really, deeply understand their customers, by gleaning the kinds of insights that lead to breakthrough strategies and lasting competitive advantage. In the rush to gather bigger and bigger data, let’s not forget the real power in little data. You will continue to develop the structure of your ideas as you prepare a draft of your answer.

Trackback from your site.

Cathy Whitehead McIntyre

Cathy Whitehead McIntyre, Principal of Strategic Initiatives Inc, is a marketing research consultant specializing in qualitative research. She was one of the first in Canada to use online qualitative methodologies.

Leave a comment