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Thick Data – Are you Kidding Me?

Thick data.  What next – juicy, gooey, chewy data?  With nuts?  (No, wait, I think we could make a strong argument that we have plenty of nuts involved in naming things already.  Hint: Differentiation is more than a new name for a known, accepted concept.)

You know I prefer do the work versus dealing with all of the new names this generation of marketers feels it is their God-given right to create so they can look unique, brilliant, special.  But there is a point where I have to deal with the mess, the confusion, the unrealistic expectations…and that can be such a waste of everyone’s time.

So here’s there truth about ‘thick data’ -and why you should care.

What is Thick Data?

Well, according to Brandwatch, it’s:

Thick Data is about a complex range of primary and secondary research approaches, including surveys, questionnaires, focus groups, interviews, journals, videos and so on.

In a nutshell it’s all qualitative informative materials, tools or techniques that help brands gather granular, specific knowledge about their target audience.

And there’s this from the WSJ:

Successful companies and executives work to understand the emotional, even visceral context in which people encounter their product or service, and they are able to adapt when circumstances change. They are able to use what we like to call Thick Data.

Finally, there is this from Wired

To really understand people, we must also understand the aspects of our experience — what anthropologists refer to as thick data. Thick data captures not just facts but the context of facts. Eighty-six percent of households in America drink more than six quarts of milk per week, for example, but why do they drink milk? And what is it like? A piece of fabric with stars and stripes in three colors is thin data. An American Flag blowing proudly in the wind is thick data.

Rather than seeking to understand us simply based on what we do as in the case of big data, thick data seeks to understand us in terms of how we relate to the many different worlds we inhabit. Only by understanding our worlds can anyone really understand “the world” as a whole, which is precisely what companies like Google and Facebook say they want to do.

So, it really isn’t a “new concept” – it’s just a new name for an old, familiar concept that we know works.

Why should you care about Thick Data?

Our job is to understand our audience as best we can so we can identify opportunities to deliver them unique value – and thick data, along with big data (and let’s not forget regular ol’ data) helps us achieve that goal.  Data is nice but you really need to meet the people, interact with them, walk a mile in their shoes…so please don’t get lost behind the big data hype and remember to get out there and watch, listen, learn.

What do you think?  Does your research plan include a good mix of data analysis combined with some quantitative and qualitative research?  Or are you risking your ability to get a deeper, broader understanding of your audience by focusing only on data?



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