Review: Martin Lindstrom – Small Data

First let me say that I want Martin Lindstrom’s job. We both make our living providing marketing ideas to major international brands. However, while I spend my days in an Amsterdam office building hammering out ideas on tight deadlines, Lindstrom gets to travel the world, spending months observing consumer behaviour and local culture. It’s like the Hollywood version of my job! The guy must be doing something right. And without doubt, part of that are his books. Filled with great anecdotes, provocative observations and bold statements, they’re fun and inspiring.

Small Data is no exception. The point Lindstrom makes here is clear from the title. Truly inspiring insights are often not found by analysing huge amounts of anonymous data, but by observing individuals. This echoes similar sentiments in IDEO’s design thinking approach, learning from extreme rather than average users.

It’s somewhat ironic then, that my favorite insight in the book might as well have come from Big Data. Lindstrom discovers that teenage girls use their mobile phones intensively between 6:00 and 6:30 AM. He soon finds out they’re exchanging selfies, helping each other pick today’s outfit. This leads to a flagship clothes store with Facebook access integrated into the mirrors for easy sharing. A cool example of an idea inspired by actual consumer behaviour. Something which the (marketing) world needs much more of, whatever size data you prefer.

Elsewhere in the book, I’m less convinced by the big conclusions Lindstrom draws from his small data. And some of his strong observations serve as a great rationale for fairly conventional ideas. Ultimately though, I read books like these to get a kick in the butt to do better myself. And on this count, Small Data more than succceeds. I’m definitely inspired to carve out more time for observing actual consumer behaviour. Who knows, I might end up traveling the globe like Lindstrom. Or away from that Amsterdam office building at least.