I’ve been running across the term “thick data” lately and even came across a definition earlier this week from Word Spy, an online glossary that highlights new pop culture terms before they’re cool.
So, what is thick data and why does it matter? It’s what we’ve traditionally thought of as qualitative data, and it could become even more important in the future as a balancing point to the thin data at the edges of the Internet of Things. Why? Because thick data can provide deeper meaning – the context, if you will.
After all, you can’t learn everything from 1s and 0s. Quantitative data can help you a lot, but how do you incorporate the softer stuff too? The human stuff that holds the meaning behind the numbers – answering questions such as why the numbers are what they are, and all the other stuff that’s not obvious from hard numbers alone.
A more practical example: Mobile marketing
Now that you have an understanding of thick data, why should you care about it for your business? Let’s look at mobile marketing. What I so often see as a consumer are brands targeting me with things that are absolutely ridiculous.
I can understand how they’re making assumptions about me based on the limited data they have access to, but it doesn’t make sense if you really know me. There are all kinds of possibilities when looking at that limited scope of data, but I might fall out on the wrong side of a decision tree, and rot there on the ground.
How can brands advance traditional data mining and statistical analysis to improve some of these digital promotions? Maybe you look at marrying structured data with unstructured data, including both qualitative and quantitative insights – creating a soup of both thick and thin data, thus using different types of data to improve the way you practice your art.
Thin data might be a burst of information with limited context. It’s not all the information that may affect a given scenario, like what offer might be relevant to me when I’m in my local grocery store late at night on a weekday. It may just be one piece of the equation. Look at iBeacon data streams, for example. This geo-targeted data knows when consumers are close by, or inside, a specific location. It’s proximity-based data and it’s valuable, but there isn’t a lot of marketing insight that can be derived just from that dimension of data, except that you’re there. Or, your device was there. We have to combine that information with something else that’s more robust to make smarter use of the data.
Thin data is valuable to collect and explore in large quantities, but the danger in using thin data alone comes with making direct offers without context. As marketers, let’s not blow it. Let’s recognize that, while all this stuff is coming at us, we still have to be good stewards of the data.
Make sure you know something about who you’re talking to before you send a message to the consumer. Learn to listen to all the data before you speak or initiate a conversation. If initially you come out with an offer just because you have a device that’s within a geo-fenced area, that communication might come back to haunt you. And, naturally, make sure you’re not invading privacy or misusing the data you have.
Data streams generated in the Internet of Things are giving us access to more and more data every day, but our thick data from posted videos, photos, notifications and conversations is growing too. How can we use both the thick and the thin to benefit the consumer and the brand? If you can get that right, your opportunity to innovate and approach your marketing campaigns differently will be huge.