Big data v rich data: Let’s look beyond the numbers

Posted by Bridget Costello on Mar 9, 2016 9:00:00 AM
Bridget Costello


Each and every day we create a digital trail of pins, pokes, status updates, likes, blog posts, email, Googles, Bings, and a myriad of other digital markers that combine to create a map of our actions. Collecting and analysing this digital trail is being heralded as a company’s biggest asset for defining and improving customer experience and innovation. However, with the overwhelming volume of data that’s generated, how can you make sense of it all?

A key promise of Big Data is that by collecting enough data at the right level, analysts can reveal and predict patterns in customer behaviour, thus generating insights that will help to create better experiences, improve the usability of digital experiences, perhaps even reveal missed opportunities for innovation. However, a world where human behaviour is merely reduced to ones and zeros can do little to shine a light on emotional and cultural values and experiences that help shape how we decide to engage with and co-opt technologies in daily life.

Abby Margolis from Claro Partners and Tricia Wang make compelling arguments that big data needs rich data to help us humanise the volumes of data collected. As Margolis states, “We already know that successful product, service and experience innovation starts with an understanding of real people and their real needs, so why has this basic principle been largely absent from the obsession with big data?”. Tricia Wang suggests that Big Data produces so much information that it “needs something more to bridge and/or reveal knowledge gaps” and that ethnographic research still has enormous value in the era of Big Data (ref).

In the midst of a deluge of Big Data, rich data is what is needed to add meaning and context to the patterns seen in Big Data. To innovate and create highly sticky customer experiences we need to connect with people as emotional beings to define relationships between groups of people and brands. Ultimately, we want to create a relationship between brands and customers built on human needs starting with understanding emotions, context and experiences.

Rich data, generated through practices such as participant observation, customer journey maps and safaris allows customer experience professionals to contextualise the findings evident in Big Data, revealing what is behind the decision to choose one brand over another. For Design Thinkers, engaging with big data AND rich data is necessary to create valuable and meaningful experiences that literally go to the heart of what it means to be human.

Why not check out our take on the 13 mistakes organisations make around becoming more customer centric? Download it here.

 13 Mistakes When Becoming Customer Centric 

Topics: Design Thinking and Customer Experience