small data bytes backWhile the market industry wrings its hands in angst over the threats caused by Big Data and Data Scientists; while millions of dollars are being raised in funding rounds to pump into new analytics software that can append sentiment analysis and automate the aggregation of sales by segments and super segments; while Marketing Directors and teams the world over wrestle to incorporate new data sources they scarcely have time to comprehend we believe it is time to slow down.

Sometimes it really is better to stop, take a deep breath and consider exactly what it is we are doing. Consider, clarify and summarise before you move on to the next stage. When and how did the world suddenly become so complex? Or did it? Are we just fooling ourselves? Consumers are faced with more choice of media, purchase channels and brand choices than ever before. They are definitely more empowered to influence than they have ever been and they are starting to understand how to wield that power to good and bad effect.

So when hard pressed marketing or brand managers actually have a chance to stop and think carefully, to come out of the back to back meetings which mean they find themselves at Thursday afternoon before they realize and they still haven’t had time to think that brand plan through the way they would have liked to, when you STOP …                             when you clear your mind…                       and really think about the consumer, your customer what do they actually do that is different to what they did five years ago?

Before we had all this data, before we knew that as well as buying from your store they also buy from at least 4 others on a regular basis, before we knew that they enter competitions as a way to supplement their income. They are still fulfilling the same set of basic needs aren’t they? Deciding what to provide for a specific meal or a person in the family or what to do this time next month; what type of holiday to choose this year; how to get the kids into a school they prefer; how to make their budget last this month. These are people, people!

So this is a small plea but with some passion behind it. Good qualitative research is powerful, meaningful and communicates in a way data simply cannot, no matter how pretty the animated builds, infographics or data art is. Why? Because it taps into people’s emotions – remember we are not thinking people who feel but feeling people who think – that is the difference between humans and every other living thing on this planet. But this is not just some rant from an old pro – I was overjoyed to read this glowing testimonial from a client about the work by @Hope+Anchor, who we admire. Please read it as it probably makes the point far more eloquently than me. The short version (with respect to the author, Susan Lugthart) is précised below:

The research involved spending the best part of a day in peoples’ homes, the aim to elicit the anecdotes and memories that make up the DNA of profound happiness people feel living in those homes.  The debrief was delivered using just their voices, allowing us to immerse ourselves in their stories whilst filling in the pictures for ourselves.  I’ve been doing this research thing for a while and I can honestly say it was a piece of genius. So what was it about this research that brought a room full of hard-nosed stakeholders to tears when it was debriefed whilst delivering exactly what we needed as a business?  For me it was the quality of those conversations.  As client side researchers we make decisions all the time about qual or quant, and whether to do depths, focus groups, ethnography or communities etc.  And there’s often an implicit assumption when making those choices that all qualitative conversations are equal.  But they absolutely aren’t.  Digital conversations and human conversations are fundamentally different.  When I briefed this project originally I was fully expecting to be recommended a community.  I now know that a community, whilst wonderful for many things, would never have given us what we needed.  

The Buzzz intend to celebrate the use of small data through great qualitative research. We also would like to trumpet the achievements of our peers like Hope + Anchor because it is right to do so and we would like to celebrate clients like Susan Lugthart who are brave enough to try something that just might work!

So let’s observe more and ask less, listen more, encourage conversations not interrogations, allow clients to be brave – then the enquiring mind has something to feast upon and create with.