Photo: iStock / Getty
Photo: iStock / Getty

The term Big Data is getting old. In 2016 alone, the online world was flooded with more than 4.5 million mentions of the term. While a large volume of data — structured and unstructured — swamps businesses daily, what we should do in 2017 is retire the shiny-gold term of yesteryear. It’s not the amount of data, but what marketers do with it that matters. This year small data will rule.

Defined as data in a size and format that is accessible, informative and actionable, small data will be more beneficial to marketers this year. Unlike Big Data, which is capable of finding correlations, small data helps marketers answer the “why” in a question. Small data, being bite-sized and informative, can help marketers make sense of Big-Data trends and can bridge knowledge gaps. Small data adds context and clarity to the trends and patterns within Big Data to create actionable insights. While Big Data can tell me that program inquiries spike immediately after the release of local examination results, what small data can do is let me know which programs are popular, what the concerns of students are (price, reputation, and so forth) during this period. I can then use this data to direct personalized advertisements to customers who fit this profile.

What can marketers do?

Re-examine the data that has already been collected. Instead of investing thousands of dollars in the newest system that can collect a truckload of data, marketers should examine their existing assets. Not every lump of coal holds a hidden gem; being able to predict the when your customers are online or offline and being able to focus your advertising spend is good. But marketers need to cut these Big Data up into smaller portions and contextualize these patterns. Small data can be found on social-media platforms — great places to start building a more complete picture of their customers and the segment in which they lie. In 2017, marketers must realize they can get actionable results without acquiring the kinds of expensive systems commonly used in Big Data analytics.

Get out there, talk to people. Marketers can change the way their data is collected. Remember: Small data focuses on the “whys,” which can help marketers get to the crux of the problem faster. It may take up more time, but according to Danish author, Martin Lindstrom, this is how IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad collects data. Kamprad is known to spend time at the IKEA checkout line to find out why certain products appeal — or not — to his customers. He calls this the “most efficient research ever.” In 2017, marketers should experiment with different ways to collect data in order to better understand what should guide their decisions.

It is not a small matter

Inaccurate data and poor information are estimated to cost US businesses more than $600 billion a year. Marketers need to stop drawing important conclusions without the support of context, which can only be derived from talking to and observing people and understanding their behavior. Viva Sinniah, executive chairman of PSB Academy, a Singapore business school, often cites how small data was key in Lego’s turnaround story. Lego changed the size of its signature tiny bricks to much larger building blocks based on insight derived from Big Data, which showed that instant gratification will kill consumers’ interest in the smaller bricks. This decision nearly put the company into bankruptcy. After speaking to children who actually played with Legos instead of relying on Big Data, Lego went back to making small bricks — the reason Lego is still a much loved, iconic brand today. The size of data sets does not matter as much as having the right piece of data to help solve a problem.

A good marketing strategy is always data- and insights-guided, and in 2017 it is more important than ever to make sure the data we collect are the ones that matter most. If marketers can get the data right, it will go a long way toward ensuring the brand story is told right, told well in a timely manner.

Marcus Loh

Marcus is Director, Asia Pacific Communication at Tableau Software (NYSE: DATA), the world's leading visual analytics platform. He is passionate about making brands matter in the data age and takes joy in giving back to the community by serving in various advisory capacities for academia, industry and non-profits. His views on brand strategy, data literacy and public affairs have been published in The Diplomat, Channel NewsAsia, The Straits Times, The Business Times, Singapore Business Review among...