Small Data

As a long-time market researcher, both quantitative and qualitative, I am always on the hunt for good research books. Hoping to find new ways to perform my job, I love learning from other professionals. Global brand consultant Martin Lindstrom wrote an interesting book to help market researchers and brand managers better understand customers through qualitative research. Small Data: The Tiny Clues that Uncover Huge Trends is a collection of Lindstrom’s travels and his techniques for what he refers to as a “sped-up version of ethnography” (he calls it Subtext Research).

Global Detective

Lindstrom helps brands create differentiation and competitive advantages through in-person observations of consumers, watching them, living with them, and interviewing them (ethnography for you and me). He travels the world discovering customer needs for brands and figuring out how to connect the brand and the consumer. A key part of his work is noticing what others don’t; for example, the importance of colors between wives and mother-in-laws in India. Or, understanding how to sell more Brazilian beer through consumer aspirations, Lindstrom shares many good techniques anyone can apply to their business.

Working as a global detective, Lindstrom gathers clues, makes connections, and helps brands understand how to interact with consumers in new ways. He might seem to exaggerate many details and his use of statistics is a bit questionable, but overall the book is a fun and inspiring read. If you are a qualitative researcher, you will feel right at home following him around the world. If you are a Tableau, SPSS, or Cognos geek, then this book will give you a new perspective and inspire you to get out of the office and talk to customers.

On the constant lookout for clues, symbols, or behaviors to help connect-the-dots and find “golden nuggets” to develop new insights for brands, Lindstrom’s work is a powerful addition to many organizations. His fieldwork compliments the tacit and data-driven knowledge within firms, to help them understand customers in a new light. Adopting an outsider’s perspective allows for direct interaction with customers, that locals would typically miss.


In this world of big data and the obsession with consumer insights, Lindstrom reminds the reader the importance of roaming the world and talking to customers. Quantitative data will only get you so far, but the subtle ways that consumers are influenced are only uncovered through direct observation. Combining big data and small data can create a holistic picture of the market for improved consumer insights. Though Lindstrom might seem to over-exaggerate the successes of his findings, it is still a good read.

Pick it up, get on a plane, read the book, then start talking to some customers. You will be amazed by what you find.