Why brands need thick data to capitalize on big data

The essence of marketing was and always will be to identify, understand and serve human needs.  In todays world we call that customer-centricity, because many organizations have seem to have lost touch with their customers. Hence, their challenge is to put customers centric again. But in doing so, marketers now have something that is completely different compared to let’s say the 60’s and 70’s: the means to understand the customer. We’d like to share some thoughts on the prosperous marriage of using Big Data and Thick Data to mine for the right consumer insights.

But first, what is thick data? We describe thick data as qualitative insights derived from the social sciences like anthropology, sociology, history, and psychology. These insights provide a thick description of not just human behavior, or manifestations of peoples would-be intentions, but its context as well. This contextualization or interpretation of insights provides meaning and as such a better understanding of human behavior. This is essential information for any professional who wants to grow brands or engage in meaningful marketing.

And yes, although we agree that any organization needs both Big and Thick data, we would argue that Big Data is useless without Thick Data. Why? First of all because we have experienced it first hand. We helped a company with 4 million customers and 100 (data) analists to become customer-centric and make the most of their Big Data by connecting it to Thick Data. Second, if you look beyond all the blabla around Big Data you’ll understand that having Big Data does not mean your next marketing strategy will automatically show itself on your screen. Join us in our thinking by reading this article.

Big Data – size matters but it’s not everything.
In today’s world, many companies are rushing to consumer research that is reliant on Big Data and analytics.  We can understand their enthusiasm, as indeed, Big Data does enable brands and companies to build knowledge of their customers. However, we would argue that considering only Big Data as the exclusive tool to mine for consumer insights may be a shortsighted approach.

Harvesting data is easy, using it to identify patterns of human behaviour and predicting outcomes is more difficult. Often times data models can only provide a limited picture of the consumers and the markets. People are just very complex beings, and sometimes they are acting on motives they are even unaware of themselves.  That said, while Big Data could offer opportunities and provide astonishingly detailed pictures of people’s behaviours and what they are doing, understanding the why is the more difficult.  Big Data can predict a customer’s next mouse click or purchase, but what it won’t be able to tell is why they made the click or purchase.  Without this insight, brands cannot truly be customer centric.

Thick Data from human sciences give context.
So Big Data can provide a lot of tactical actionability, but for true customer-centric thinking on a strategic level we need not just data and algorithms because even if you have a lot of data, does not mean you have a customer centric strategy. We would argue that to reach its full potential for any company to become customer-centric they need something big data explicitly does not have – context.  And this is exactly where social sciences and humanities come in, and where qualitative and Thick Data could complement the use of Big Data in providing context to understanding consumer behaviour. While there is a notion that the job of the data scientist as the sexiest profession, it would nonetheless appear that the social scientists is one of the most important roles companies could employ in leveraging their data sets

Let’s get married!
To be customer-centric, brands should be developing innovations and big ideas that are true to the brand and founded on insights that resonate and inspire with real human beings.  In search for true consumer-centricity, companies would benefit from both Big and Thick data.  Rather than a choice between prioritising Big data and Thick data, the key to success is to acknowledge that both are important. For brands that want to be data-driven and human centered at the same time, marrying big data and thick data is the way to go.

Trend audit to reveal thick data opportunities.
Most brands sit on a pile of unused research and unlocked opportunities. They have data, facts and figures that lack actionability. To reveal their opportunities (and identify the threats) we provide trend audits. During an audit our researchers and consultants use our trendmodel to decide which sociocultural trends are relevant – today and tomorrow for a brand’s challenges. We analyze the brand and other data and information provided such as commercial goals, brand strategies, consumer segmentation, etc and connect it to our trends. Revealing insights in human behavior that are either a great opportunity or a threat for you brand, today and in the near future.

Our clients use the results of the audits as a frame for brand related innovation. Followed up with future impact studies or ideation workshops, the audit is a powerful service to prepare your brand for the future and capitalize on your brand’s existing knowledge and big data investments.
Want to know more about our trend audits? Feel free to contact Michiel.

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