Small Data Makes Sense of Big Data

Big Data? I prefer Small Data, thank you.

The bigger you get, the harder it becomes to listen to your customers. This applies to company size as well as the amount of data you’re handling. I speak from experience.


To reconcile differences of opinion, let’s define what big data usually means. Also called data science, analytics, business intelligence or just good ole fashion statistics, big data deals with elephantine amounts of information. It often includes (but is not limited to) data mining, machine learning, predictive analytics, A/B testing, crowdsourcing, genetic code, natural speech processing, time analysis, and knowledge discovery.


For the record, I like big data and the further enlightenment it seeks. But I dislike it for two specific reasons: 1) It’s overwhelming, which discourages participation and utility for many. 2) It’s more mechanical by nature and often fails to consider human belief and feelings; the very things that motivate the actions that big data is so good at recording, storing, and even highlighting.


Let me give you an example. I recently met with an executive from one of a leading consumer electronics manufacturer to sell him on the benefits of micro surveys (aka Small Data). “We have analytics!” he exclaimed after my pitch. “We see where they click!”


Thing is, clicks aren’t opinions. A person could have clicked somewhere on your website, but they didn’t tell you why they did, or how they felt after or before they clicked. And traditional surveys that are ill-timed, disruptive, and overbearing don’t either, especially when considering their less than 1% response rates.


That’s where small data and micro surveys come in. They ask more human but fewer total questions that result in greater insights and better response rates, upwards of 10%. Where big data is machinelike, small data is personal. It asks why people care and if they believe which enables you to connect consumer sentiment with predictive behavior.


In that regard, micro surveys are the epitome of starting small. They are the trailhead to big data. They scale as your understanding increases. So in a very real way, small data enables big data. The former helps you make sense of all the things we do (i.e. the latter).
You really only need a few good questions to change your outlook. As you plan your consumer insight campaigns this year, I hope you’ll consider a micro approach to surveys.