Big data helps solve big problems. But when it comes to everyday marketing decisions, small data is where the answers live, experts say.
In this week’s “CMO Wants To Know,” CMO.com reached out to marketers to get a sense of why small data is important to the marketing and sales disciplines. Here’s what we learned:
Allen Bonde, VP of product marketing and innovation at Actuate, told CMO.com:
There are a few different definitions floating around on what exactly small data is. From a marketing and tech lens, there's a literal definition, which is that small data is data at a smaller amount than big data. And it's an amount that regular folks can manage and make use of.
My perspective, as someone who started as a data scientist, then became an analyst and a CMO, is small data--at a high level--is the last mile of big data. It's that place where users of the data can interact with and apply data from theory to practice. I embrace big data but steer the conversation at the applications of data. Really, it's all about having data that's actionable.
With all the talk about the “data-driven CMO” and “data-enhanced experiences,” it is clear that data is the new big thing. To me, though, taking data and packaging it--often visually--and then turning that into personalized insights that help people do their everyday work, that's the difference between big and small data.
At the end of the day, computers like data and people like answers, and that's the difference between big and small data.
Michael Andrew, executive director of data science at AKQA, told CMO.com:
Small data has power. You can analyze and act upon it.
There’s a funny truth about big data: It boils down to small data anyway. Small data is important because of that old saying, “Half of my ads don’t work, but I don’t know which half,” because it makes it possible to quantify and know.
One big challenge for marketers is getting attention, and attention is a currency no one wants to pay for. There are so many channels and options, and so marketers need to understand their audience and listen to what’s working. We call it “responsive relevance,” in a world of different devices and mechanisms to connect with consumers. There’s TV, mobile, tablets, but the question boils down to how do you create experiences that get you that attention? That is what small data is all about: mapping consumer data and using data systems to know if what you are doing is working or not.
Stephen Yu, president and chief consultant of Willow Data Strategy, told CMO.com:
The definition of big data is all wrong. I know that’s a kind of provocative way to say it, but it is all wrong. The definition of big data is really about three Vs: volume, velocity, and variety. That kinds leads to people believing data is always big, collected really fast, and it is coming from a lot of different sources, so it makes answering questions virtually impossible. You know what my analogy is? Big data is like counting grains of rice in front of a hungry man. He doesn’t care about the number of grains. He just wants a bowl of cooked rice. The one bowl of cooked rice, in my opinion, is small data.
The process of making sense of data should consist of making the data smaller and smaller. The small data is not a bad thing. You have to make the data smaller for it make sense. If you have a specific business question, and you are the CMO, the answer will have to be driven out of thousands or even a few thousand data points. What the CMO wants is a small answer. The big data must get smaller. The big data movement should be about two things: cutting down the noise and making data smaller so that it is a digestible, small piece of information that can be used.
Michael Halbrook, a consulting manager within Adobe’s consulting practice, told CMO.com:
Small data is a focus in on parts, or “slices,” of your organization’s big data that provides a specific subset of data that can be actionable or more digestible for understanding and optimization. Big data is too big for most people to grasp or do anything with–it’s a pile of every bit of knowledge your company may have amassed. Small data is a particular chunk of that, shoveled off to the side, ready to be harvested as actionable knowledge.
Small data is important for sales and marketing folks for two main reasons: first, because big data has too much noise and extra data that they can’t act on, and second, because sales and marketing folks are too busy wearing three, four, or even five hats in their day-to-day work to be able to do much with data that lies outside of the context of what they’re trying to decide or do in any given moment. My team sees clients get the most traction and value out of small windows into the big data pile that give them timely, relevant information they can act on for very specific areas of the business.