Thick data and big data

By Mikkel B. Rasmussen and Andreas W. Hansen via hbr.org   Article

Big Data Is Only Half the Data Marketers Need

“For marketers, truly valuable customer data comes in two forms: thick data and big data. Thick data is generated by ethnographers, anthropologists, and others adept at observing human behavior and its underlying motivations. Big data is generated by the millions of touchpoints companies have with customers. To date, thick data and big data have been promoted and employed by very different people. Thick data has been handled by companies grounded in the social sciences. Big data has been promoted by people with analytics degrees, often sitting in corporate IT functions. There has been very little dialogue between the two.

This is unfortunate. Combining the two approaches can solve many of the problems that each category of data faces on its own. Thick data’s strength comes from its ability to establish hypotheses about why people behave as they do. It cannot help answer questions of ‘how much,’ only ‘why.’ Big Data has the advantage of being largely unassailable because it is generated by the entire customer population rather than a smaller sample size. But it can only quantify human behavior, it cannot explain its motivations. That is to say, it cannot arrive at a ‘why.’

It’s only by combining the two forms of data that a complete picture emerges and real solutions to the strategic problems facing CMOs may be found. As companies start combining thick and big data, they will also stop relying on what has so far been a cornerstone of most customer insights programs—namely endless surveys and focus groups that purport to explain customers’ motivations and attitudes but in reality add very little strategic value.”

 

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