Small Data, Big Impressions

By Bryan Clagett

       I get a text reminding me when my hair cut appointment is.

       I get a service reminder from my car dealer.

       I get a “Happy Birthday” message from Facebook.

       I get a “Happy Anniversary” card from my financial advisor.

       I get an email from Amazon when something I likely want is on sale.

It seems like every day, people (really it’s brands) use data to reach out and engage me. These are not complex engagements, but rather simple “pings” or reminders, and often, they are rather casual. It’s almost as if the person messaging me recognizes I’m very busy and they just want to offer a simple reminder or quick recognition of something. From a consumer’s perspective, I would not assume data is working behind the scenes to drive these little interactions, but they are niceties I enjoy, and frankly, as a consumer, I see value in. In the examples above, it’s small data being leveraged in big ways.

Now let me put my banker hat on. I can hardly pick up a trade publication or read a marketing blog without some expert or supplier telling me that banking’s future and survival lies with “Big Data.” Furthermore, after reading numerous vendor pitches, we’d all be hard pressed to actually define what big data really is. Sure, data is very important to our marketing and delivery strategies, but perhaps more importantly, data can help us enhance the customer experience. After all, unique experience needs to be a bigger differentiator in our value propositions.

Small data (sm’aē’āll DH(ə)ta) is data that is ‘small’ enough for human comprehension. It is data in a volume and format that makes it accessible, informative and actionable. The term “big data” is about machines and “small data” is about people. (Wikipedia)

Let’s forget about big data for a moment and consider “small data,” or as it was once called, just plain data. You have tons of it today, but are you using it regularly to improve customer experience? As Allen Bonde first defined on his blog Small Data Group, small data ideally connects people with timely, meaningful insights, organized and packaged to be accessible, understandable, and actionable for everyday tasks. Years ago, midway through my banking career, an IT executive  asked, “Bryan, I can give you all the data you want, right from the core, but what information do you want and what is your goal?”

That question really stuck with me. Any data strategy must start with a business strategy, so before we start asking for big data, what business questions or challenges do we hope the data will address? Since share of wallet, relationship profitability, and differentiation is so critically important to the bank marketer, I’d advocate that, small data needs to be a much bigger focus.

Think for a moment of your customers’ daily retail banking needs or habits as you consider these small data examples:

  • I use the same ATM almost every week. And every time it asks me if I prefer English, and I always do. Has Rosetta Stone started an ATM network?
  • My birthday is November 4th. It crushes me that my credit union or bank never wished me a Happy Birthday. PayPal did.
  • My bank is active on Twitter, and they know I’m active on Twitter. But they have not associated my Twitter handle with their customer records. AMEX did.
  • When a Regions Bank customer checks into a Regions branch on Foursquare, the bank often tweets out a thank you. They may not associate the check-in with a customer record, but at least they engaged a customer.
  • My bank knows I have 2 kids. In 11 years, neither financial institution asked me if I’d like to set up an account for them or if I needed help planning for college. Too late now. Vanguard got the 529 business.

I’ll spare you a longer list. In short, you have plenty of data, yet perhaps are not leveraging it to engage your audience in the most meaningful and relevant way. Maybe what you really need, after you define what you want from data, are more intelligent ways to leverage the “small” data that you already have.

Maybe, just maybe, before you think big, you might need to think small.

Bryan Clagett is CMO at Geezeo, a personal financial management (PFM) solutions provider dedicated entirely to financial institutions. Email: [email protected]