This book was so not what I had expected. When you read a title like ‘Small Data: The Tiny Clues That Uncover Huge Trends’ it’s clear that this book is about making sense of data you gather for marketing purposes. So what I was expecting was a bit of a how-to approach where the author showed how to translate big data (meaning cold hard figures and statistics) into small data (conclusions).
Martin Lindstrom calls himself a ‘forensic investigator of small data’, which he describes as emotional DNA or desire. After reading this book, I consider him more of a Sherlock Holmes on people’s deepest desires and what makes them tick. Truly, this man’s job is one of the most fascinating ever, although it doesn’t make for a healthy personal life (something he admits by the way). He travels around the world to study people, contracted by brands or businesses that ask him to discover how they can improve their product or brand or store. He’s worked for supermarkets, car manufacturers, retail chains, you name it.
Small Data is one captivating, fascinating account of how he discovers the core problem these businesses have. I loved the example of Roomba for instance, the famous vacuum robot. Sales were declining and they couldn’t figure out why. You know what Lindstrom discovered? Changes in the models had caused the Roomba to lose its ‘cuteness’. At first, people loved their Roomba, treated it like a pet even. It had a high cuteness factor, which included the sounds it made (kind of like R2D2). Newer models had lost the sounds and the cuteness, causing people to lose the emotional connection with it.
In sharing his stories, Lindstrom takes you with him as he travels all over the world. We learn about the Chinese affinity for speed, the deeper meaning of refrigerator magnets, French supermarkets and how to attract teenage girls to a brick-and-mortar store. Lindstrom is a master at recognizing the tiny clues that signify a deep desire, that elusive emotional DNA. It’s an entertaining ride for sure, one that leaves you shaking your head at times, going like ‘how on earth did he figure that out?’
For me personally, a nice bonus was his analysis of different cultures, including the American culture. Lindstrom is Danish of origin, which is much closer in culture to The Netherlands (my home country) than the US. It was interesting to see the world through his eyes and see him note some of the same discrepancies in American culture as I have discovered myself.
Not until the very last chapter does he share anything practical and how-to, which is both the strength and the weakness of the book. Based on that one chapter, there’s no way you could ever learn to do what he does. It would be ludicrous to even try. So the strength of the book is not the how-to, it’s the anthropological analysis that show us how good people are at hiding what they really want, but that they leave clues nonetheless. I feel like I truly understand people better after reading this book and I’m definitely more attuned to the concept of ’emotional DNA’.
If you’re a fan of highly informational, practical books, skip this one. You won’t get much out of it. But if stories are your thing and you want to learn what makes people tick, dig in. Even if you don’t particularly care for marketing, you’ll learn tons. You don’t even need to read the whole thing at once, or even in order. The book is perfect for reading a chapter every now and then…if you can stop reading after just one, that is!