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Book Review: Small Data by Martin Lindstrom

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This book published in the year 2016, is far more relevant today than ever before. The more we read, speak of, try to understand “big data”, the more obvious it is with this book, that we don’t really think of “small data”; things which are all around us, in front of us and yet we miss it almost all the time. And that it is time to take small data seriously!

Book Review: Small Data by Martin Lindstrom
Why does someone review a book published 5 years ago?
Why is a topic of ‘small data’ relevant, especially when we have ‘big data’ all around us?
Well, this book published in the year 2016, is far more relevant today than ever before. The more we read, speak of, try to understand “big data”, the more obvious it is with this book, that we don’t really think of “small data”; things which are all around us, in front of us and yet we miss it almost all the time. And that it is time to take small data seriously!
Martin’s book profile describes his role as “a modern-day Sherlock Holmes, harnesses the power of ‘small data’ in his quest to discover the next big thing”. This book is an easy read with multiple anecdotes that transcend various global geographies to various product categories to multiple cultural nuances.
In today’s big-data obsessed world that tracks the minutest of Facebook statistics to Google Analytics, businesses have a wide range of tools to measure, slice the statistics and understand the consumer by genre. The author has narrated incidents that capture the essence of his consulting expertise - ‘consumer behaviour sleuthing”; by spending time in people’s homes “watching, listening, noticing, and teasing out clues” to what consumers really want.
By gathering “small data” on the rituals, habits, gestures, and preferences of consumers to help develop newer services and products. He captures the importance of consumers’ aspirations and superstitions; and more “what people didn’t do” sets important indication about their beliefs and behaviour. As part of his research, the author has captured his learnings from even rummaging through their garbage and recycling bins for clues!
The book is a reminder to those involved in the business of understanding consumers: that they should also spend time with (potential) consumers in their own environments. That, combined with careful observation and detailed analysis, can lead to powerful marketing insights. Martin underlines at length his experience that no detail is too small. And that from so-perceived trivial data, there could be the core consumer behaviour learnings.
The book has anecdotes, experiences of the author in helping brands reshape themselves to be contemporary and relevant to their consumers. The brands and consumers markets examples shown in the book cover Russia, Saudia Arabia, India, the Middle East, Brazil, China, Japan, USA. These also cover the following and many more :
  • How using a noise-reduction headset at 35,000 feet led to the creation of Pepsi’s new trademarked signature-brand-sound as part of its sensory branding
  • How a well-used sneaker of an 11-year-old German boy led to turning around the product philosophy of Brand LEGO
  • How a fridge magnet in the Siberian home gave the idea for a US supermarket launch
  • How a stuffed toy in a girl’s room changed the way a global fashion retailer did business and improved consumer engagement
  • How the layout of a car dashboard led to the redesign of the Roomba vacuum cleaner
  • The author brings clarity to the understanding in how the world’s most popular brands and religions have similarities and similar traits: that they bring a sense of belonging, ability and expertise of suave storytelling, concept and act of rituals, their visible symbols, a sharper sense of why they exist, sensory appeal, derived influence from folklore about their brand existence, feeling of evangelism, sense of mysticism and yet simplicity for their consumers to relate.
    Rituals, as a concept, can be found out using Small Data research. They are a shared way of doing things, and that brings customers together to a brand. Rituals serve as an entry ticket to an exclusive user universe that a customer wants to get into. The book elucidates that most of the rituals have 2 levels: A tangible/sensory one and a second symbolic/emotional. A ritual is a fixed sequence of behaviours that transport us from one state to another. The book has many examples of brand rituals. For example, the corona beer has a particular ritual that most consumers follow. Putting a lime piece in the bottle, after opening the bottle is the Corona beer ritual.
    For those who have not read other books written by Martin, he is a renowned marketing expert and has worked across consumer/product/brand categories globally and brings such rich experience of launching and even resurrecting flailing brands, with renewed consumer-connect.
    The book is a must-read if you are a professional in or student of marketing, market/consumer research, product design, anthropology, sociology; or if you are just a curious cat! This book brings back the concept of “human” to consumer research!
    This book surely is an indicator that if you spend sufficient time and competency in searching for “the tiny clues that uncover huge trends”, you might just crack the magic code! Of what consumers want!
    After all, “the devil is in the details”...
    — The author Srinath Sridharan, is a Corporate Advisor & an Independent markets commentator. Views expressed are personal
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