Is Small Data the key to success in a privacy-centric world?

The tired approach of targeted ads based on a user's browsing history is beginning to look dated, creepy, and leaving users with a poor experience with a brand. Is there a more privacy-centric world on the horizon?

Although Google infamously gave third-party cookies a stay of execution, the writing appears to be on the wall for so-called surveillance advertising as privacy finally takes centre stage. The arrival of Apple's iOS 14.5 empowered 96% of its users in the U.S. to opt-out of tracking, a move that was arguably designed to hit Facebook where it would hurt the most.

The business obsession with big data often resulted in cumbersome processes and disappointing results. Prominent vendors offer AI-powered applications that will hoover up almost limitless amounts of information. Still, in a world where context is everything, it still often delivered little value to brands or consumers.

Many solutions that promise real-time personalization often deliver insights when the data is already obsolete. Timing is crucial and trying to sell a consumer a pair of jeans three days after they have just bought a pair will seldom result in a sale. Context is everything and assuming a user is pregnant based on their online searches, and recent purchase history could quickly cause trauma if a mother encounters problems during her pregnancy.

For as long as most of us can remember, targeted ads based on a user's browsing history have followed shoppers across every website and app they visit. But this tired approach is beginning to look dated, creepy, and leaving users with a poor experience with a brand. So, to further add fuel to the flames, regulators are also joining forces with tech companies and taking action to reassure customers that a more privacy-centric world is on the horizon.

The shift from big to small and wide data

Gartner recently predicted that 70% of organizations would begin shifting their focus from big to small and wide data. The fresh approach leverages synthetic data and supervised learning to provide valuable insights while respecting users' privacy and avoiding drifting into creepy territory.

There is an increasing appreciation for the human touch rather than feeding vast quantities of questionable data and waiting to see what the AI algorithms reveal.

The answer to many questions can be found in small data rather than wading through irrelevant information. For example, sales data, visitor analytics, inventory reports, telephone inquiries, usage alerts, social media engagement, and even the weather can reveal valuable insights.

Further examples of small data in action are the results from Google Analytics which provide marketers with instant access to bounce rates and drops in returning visitors. Increasing engagement or creating strategic marketing campaigns doesn't have to be overcomplicated. By taking a step back, an epiphany of sorts will reveal that shiny new tools or large data sets can prevent teams from seeing the obvious when it's right in front of their eyes.

Another positive is that enterprises are questioning what data they can and shouldn't collect from their customers. So, we are witnessing the building of a trust-based relationship being placed at the heart of effective data strategies, and this is a massive step forward in terms of progress.

Why businesses should be thinking smaller, not bigger

Marketers looking for success in a privacy-centric world are learning that less is more. When feeding these much smaller data sets from various sources, it becomes much easier for AI and ML to automatically identify recurring themes and bring previously hidden insights to life. For the last few years, humans have been guilty of being a little starstruck and in awe of the opportunities that AI and big data could bring them. But it's time to think smaller, not bigger.

The secret sauce to success contains AI and machine learning combined with a perfect blend of human expertise. For marketers to successfully open new possibilities and transform their processes, they need to accept that technology and humans work best when they complement rather than compete with each other.

Contrary to popular opinion, unlocking the elusive competitive difference can be achieved by refocussing on the quality of human input rather than the quantity of machine output.

Big data was once described as the new oil by Mark Cuban. But after a rollercoaster ride and the arrival of data protection laws such as GDPR, many organizations have seen their treasure trove of customer data go from its biggest asset to its biggest liability. As business leaders begin exploring ways to maximize value and mitigate risks, small data combined with human insights can dramatically improve every aspect of the customer experience.

Ultimately, the shift away from big data is enabling every customer to have greater control and transparency over how their information is used, which is something that we should all be celebrating. Moreover, a privacy-first data approach delivered in the right way can be more accurate and reliable. All while keeping businesses on the right side of regulators and privacy-conscious consumers. Maybe, small data will prove to be a big win for businesses in a privacy-centric world.

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