Why do we need thick data?

Traditional business intelligence technologies have helped the organizations to gain deeper insight from their data. With the help of intuitive charts, KPIs, verified numbers and facts, business can analyze customer choices, business trends, buying behaviors and preferences. Analytics have helped to predict the pattern for the future as well. This is great, thanks to the big data, analytics, and business intelligence technologies.

But, what next?

One key question these technologies were unable to address is: 

  • Why do customers make those choices
  • Why some behaviour patterns are more common than others?

This is where a more qualititative approach can help the business, precisely what thick data is all about.

What is thick data?

Thick data is qualitative information that provides insights into the everyday emotional lives of consumers. It explains "why" questions such as:

  • Why consumers have certain preferences?
  • Why they behave the way they do?
  • Why certain trends stick?

Companies gather this data by conducting primary and secondary research in the form of surveys, focus groups, interviews, questionnaires, videos and other various methods. Ultimately, to understand people’s actions and what drives them to your business (or not), you need to understand the humanistic context in which they pursue these actions.

Case study of Lego using Thick Data

Lego is a Danish family-owned company based in Billund, Denmark. It is best known for the manufacture of Lego-brand toys, consisting mostly of interlocking plastic bricks. Company aims to inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow through creative play and learning.

Lego toys

Lego was near collapse in the early 2000’s because they lost touch with their customers.

After failed attempts to re-position the company with action figures and other concepts, Jorgen Vig Knudstorp, CEO of the Danish Lego firm, decided to engage in a major qualitative research project. Children in five major global cities were studied to help Lego better understand the emotional needs of children in relation to legos. After evaluating hours of video recordings of children playing with legos, a pattern emerged. Children were passionate about the “play experience” and the process of playing. Rather than the instant gratification of toys like action figures, children valued the experience of imagining and creating.

The results were clear; Lego needed to go back to marketing its traditional building blocks and focus less on action figures and toys. Today, Lego is once again a successful company, and thick data proved to be its savior.

How Samsung used Thick Data to drive its TV portfolio?

Samsung relied on external help for conducting hours of interviews, analysing videos and listening to conversations, while looking for an answer to “What does the TV mean in the modern household?”

Research revealed that to most people, TVs aren’t electronics, but furniture.

From this essential insight, the Samsung team redesigned their TVs, going for a modernist approach and changing their marketing strategy, based on customer feedback.

How exactly thick data can be used for your business?

Thick Data can bring a top-notch differentiator to any organization, thus helping businesses to uncover the kinds of insights that most of the quantitative approaches do not give. Lets explore some of the opportunities that thick data can bring to you. 

  • Product design

Xerox uses ethnographic methods alongside analytics and other BI methods. Ellen Issacs, a Xerox PARC ethnographer spoke about the importance of Thick Data in design: “even when you have a clear concept for a technology, you still need to design it so that it’s consistent with the way people think about their activities . . . you have to watch them doing what they do.”

Therefore a product design company should not only rely on what its analytics and AI systems have to say about customer preferences, also make use of thick data to enhance their offerings.

  • Organization changes

Every organization needs a strategy to evolve over time to meet its objectives. This strategy comprises of actions a company intends to take to achieve long-term goals. Thick data can immensely help to meet organization strategy or re-implementation strategy changes.

Thick data experts can work alongside business leaders to understand the impact and context of changes to from a cultural perspective to determine which changes are advisable and how to navigate the process. Presense of thick data experts can minimize the disruptive impact that such changes can make.

  • Corporate branding

An article published in the May 2013 issue of Fast Company magazine has an interesting account of a case where thick data champions won accolades at a time when big data experts failed to deliver. JCrew could not get the brand turnaround and that is when they employed thick data experts who understood what consumers wanted. One employee, Jenna Lyons was given the opportunity to implement iterative, experimental, and real-time testing of products with consumers. Her approach resonated with consumers, transforming Jcrew into a cult brand and tripling its revenues.

Organizations can increase their effort to gather more thick data about its consumers and market presense, that can help to make it branding more powerful.

Conclusion:

It’s crucial for successful companies to analyze the emotional way in which people use their products or services to develop a better understanding of their customers. By using thick data, companies can develop a positive relationship with their customers and it becomes easier for those companies to maintain happy customers and attract new ones.

References:

https://www.fastcompany.com/3007843/how-jenna-lyons-transformed-jcrew-cult-brand
https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-power-of-thick-data-1395443491