Small Data?

Rebranding qualitative research as "Small Data"

God bless Martin Lindstrom and his new book “Small Data: The Tiny Clues that Uncover Huge Trends.” For a while now on The Insights Guy I’ve been extolling the virtues of creating a culture of insight, of becoming an insight-driven organization. This needs to be achieved primarily by developing empathy with your customers via “qualitative research methods.” Qualitative methods include: 1) participation in the setting, 2) direct observation, 3) in-depth interviews to gather data, and 4) analysis of documents and materials (content and cultural analysis).

It is my strong belief that qualitative methods not only fit the need for creativity and innovation, but that they are in fact the very tools that the most innovative, insights-driven companies use in to place their customers in the center.  Only qualitative research can identify the human dimensions of consumer value – be they emotional, experiential or cultural – that can be translated into innovation in products and services.

Recently I did a speech for 3,000 executives here in New York City. I asked them to raise their hand if they spent at least one or two days in a consumer home over the last year. Two people raised their hands.  – M. Lindstrom

I’ve also posted about the need for marketers and brands and consumer insight professionals to develop true empathy with their customers as a way of opening doors to insights and innovation. To get out from behind their desks, from behind the mountains of “Big Data” and truly listen to people, and ask them great questions. Because this is only way you will ever uncover some clues that will lead an insight – a true “a-ha” moment that connects one observation with another (often seemingly unrelated) observation and explains more than that stack of cross tabs or a petabyte of social media comments ever could.



So kudos to Mr. Lindstrom for rebranding qualitative research as “Small Data.” Bloody brilliant. Who wants to talk about the findings and observations gleaned from hundreds of in-home “ethnographies,” months of “observational research” or miles of “shop-alongs”? Boring, boring, boring!

At its core, Lindstrom’s book is about one of the required disciplines for creating a culture of insight within organizations big and small. A culture that puts an empathetic understanding of the people they count as customers at their core.

About the Author

John Holcombe

John is currently the Founder of Wellspring Insights & Innovation and a member of the Board of Directors for the Miami Innovation Fund. John helps many iconic brands and organizations fill up their innovation pipeline with insights, ideas and new concepts. He also offers workshops and training on how individuals and organizations can have more and better insights by developing a culture of insight.

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