April 18, 2013

Why Small Businesses Will Always Win The Big Data Wars

big data for small businessesThe marketing world is abuzz right now over Big Data (truly, this is all anyone in marketing is talking about these days!).  The idea is that you can use analytics to  learn more about your customers and therefore offer them a more customized experience.  Amazon is a perfect example.  Because you’ve purchased a book on raw juicing in the past, you’ll get emails from them about similar or complimentary products.  It’s a great way to tap into what the customer is looking for and get them to purchase more.  Course all of this comes with a price tag, so how can small businesses take advantage of this?

At a marketing conference a few weeks ago I sat in on a Big Data session where at one point one of the panelists made mention of the fact that Big Data was something any company could do because “it only costs about 5 figures to get started cheaply and you only need one or two people responsible for mining the data.”  I don’t know about you, but I don’t have an extra $10,000 – $90,000 (the panelist never did say where in the 5 figures you’d need to be) to buy the technology necessary to implement a Big Data program let alone hiring dedicated staff for it.

So how then, you ask, can small businesses take advantage of Big Data?

Bear with me for a minute while I go off on a tangent…this article was actually inspired by my masseuse.  She’s an independent massage therapist, literally just one person working out of one room, who I saw last week and the first words out of her mouth were “How was your trip to Africa?”

Before you think I have money to burn and spend all my time getting massages, I should make it clear that I get a massage ever 3-4 months (if I’m lucky).  So it’s not like this woman saw me right before I left for my trip.  In fact, I looked back and the last time I had a massage was mid-January.   Yet now, 3 months later, here she was asking me about my trip as though I was her only client (I’m not, she’s booked out months in advance!).

When you think about it, isn’t what my masseuse did exactly what Big Data is trying to accomplish?  She learns about her customers, remembers that information, and then offers them a customized experience based on what she knows about them.

But, I hear you saying, how does asking about  your trip benefit her financially?

The reason Big Data has everyone all aflutter is because big companies are desperate to connect with their buyers.  In fact, honestly, we as human beings are desperate to connect with one another.  All of our devices, schedules, and car-based lifestyles means that we’re no longer interacting in our community the way we used to and, for many, that makes us feel alone in the world.  The simple act of someone remembering us and knowing about us builds a personalized bond that is hard to break.  Trust me, I’ll never go to another masseuse – not because she asked after my trip but because she cared enough to remember and ask about something that was very important to me.  Isn’t that the very essence of personalized and customized service?

Not yet convinced?  What about some of these examples (names have been changed but examples are true)?

1. Jane lives alone with her Doberman, we’ll call him Bubba.  Every day she walks into her local coffee shop and buys a coffee for herself and a scone for Bubba.  The barista – who’s also the owner and the baker – learns about this and starts asking what Bubba’s favorite flavors are.  Turns out it’s bacon (no big surprise), and before you know it the cafe is stocking a few bacon-flavored “Bubba scones” every day.  Do you think Jane will ever get coffee anywhere else?  Do you think if a Starbucks moves in next door she’ll suddenly change her habits?  Do you think she’ll tell everyone she knows – especially those with dogs – about Bubba scones?  Just by taking the time to listen and then react, this cafe now has a customer for life.

2. Every week little old Beverly Ann and her husband wheel their walkers up and down the farmers’ market stalls.  They don’t buy much but they do peruse the items and say hi to the booth vendors.  At one point one of the vendors notices that it’s only Beverly Ann who’s coming anymore and he asks about her husband.  Turns out he had to be put into a nearby assisted living facility.  As you can imagine, Beverly Ann is touched that a vendor even remembered her husband and asked after him.  But can you imagine how touched Beverly Ann is when that vendor rounds up a few other vendors and, working with the assisted living manager, puts on a quarterly ‘farmers’ market’ on the grounds of the assisted living facility.  Not only does Beverly Ann get to attend the farmers’ market with her husband once again, but the families of the other residents and even nearby neighbors start looking forward to the events and do their shopping there.  In this case, being aware and noticing other people has built a new outlet for this vendor and strong brand loyalty amongst the families of those living there.

3. One family-run company (which will be showcased here in a few weeks) invites local families to a community pumpkin carving event the Sunday before Halloween and then lights the more than 1200 jack o’ lanterns, for 3 nights over Halloween.  They don’t make any money off of this (and likely lose money on the actual event itself) but when it comes time for area families to purchase their corn or pumpkins do you think they head to the big supermarket chain or the farm that provides them with a sense of community?  The lack of community so many of us feel is a void that small businesses can step into and fill and you would be surprised by the gratitude you’ll receive in exchange.

4. A lingerie retailer works closely with her local hospital and will gladly come in early or stay late to help women who need to be fitted for bras following breast cancer surgeries.  This isn’t something she advertises, it’s the hospital who shares the information with their patients, and much of the surgical bras she sells is at cost.  Even though this takes up her time, her goal is to make every woman feel beautiful again.  Where do you think these women tell their friends  to shop?  The big box “Secret” shops or the retailer who goes out of her way to make them feel safe, comfortable, and beautiful?  The simple act of showing compassion is something society seems to be lacking these days.  If you can provide that in a truly genuine manner you will have customers for life.

We, as small businesses, may not have the capability to buy in the technology and mine through data to customize our customers’ experiences, but yet, when you think about it, we don’t need to.  Somewhere along the way in society’s quest for bigger, faster, better, we forgot that treating one another like human beings is the best business strategy there is.  If we’re doing our job well in the first place and we’re engaging with customers be it online or in person, and trying to make connections with people and treat everyone with the utmost of respect and compassion, then we will always ‘out data’ the Big Data.  Amazon may be able to tell me that the Juicer 8000 is on sale, but they can’t ask, like you can, if my breakfast juices have made me feel better or offer up suggestions about substituting one ingredient over another in the drinks themselves.

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