Book Review: Small Data – Martin Lindstrom

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I’d love to buy Martin Lindstrom a beer. Actually, I’d shout him quite a few beers, just so I could listen to the countless branding stories from his travels to every corner of the globe. And much like his previous books Buyology and Brandwashed, Small Data could be considered an endless pub conversation of Lindstrom’s resume of solving critical sales and customer problems for the world’s biggest brands. From Pepsi, McDonalds, Lego and Disney, through to lesser-known (at least to me) international brands such as Tally WEiJL (Swiss teen fashion retailer), Devassa (Brazillian beer), and Lifebuoy (Indian soap).

Lindstrom’s storytelling style is cascadingly structured (big story > sub-story > sub-sub story > back to the big story), repetitive and can at times read like a 250 page CV (“When I worked with Coke last week…”). However, his discoveries and insights are candid, bold and up to the minute.

Two of Lindstrom’s insights that resonated with me were:

  • The Western goal of happiness as a modern concept.“It was only in the mid-nineteenth century that the pursuit of happiness gradually evolved into a legitimate goal, and unhappiness became a blight to be avoided.

    “Happiness has evolved today into a singularly Western, and especially American, phenomenon-even a mandate.

    “Ironically, our insistence on being happy all the time almost guarantees unhappiness, if only by creating the fear that you’re not measuring up to other people’s levels of contentment, wealth or well-being.”

  • Permission zones.“This is a term I use to refer to a moment, or an environment, that allows consumers to “enter” an alternate emotional state. A Permission Zone can be literal, like a zoo, a ferry ride or a movie theater, or even a fast-food restaurant.

    “A permission Zone can be linguistic, too. If you’ve ever sat in a meeting, or had a conversation with someone you don’t know well, you probably remember the first time one of you swears. Without even realizing it, you’ve just granted the other people in the room permission to use profanity. You can almost feel the unbuckling of formality in the room, and from that point on, everyone at the table will begin swearing.”

Initially, I struggled to feel Lindstrom delivered on the catchy title’s premise as an antidote to the current trend of Big Data. It does all tie together in the final chapter as Lindstrom guides you through his small data 7Cs process of Collection, Clues, Connecting, Causation, Correlation, Compensation, and Concept.

If you are into branding, product marketing, work for an agency, or just love marketing stories, definitely read Small Data or any of Lindstrom’s other works. They’re a good yarn, and will provide you with some great pub anecdotes of your very own, such as “Did you know MacDonalds is the world’s largest manufacturer of toys?”, or “Did you know all food tastes bad at 30,000 ft, and it’s not just airline food? (Why in-flight food tastes weird)”.

Shout outs (tl;dr)

  • Martin Lindstrom is a brand genius from Denmark.
  • If you are into branding, marketing or user-focused product design, read his books.
  • Small Data is about sleuthing for small clues in a user’s everyday lives that lead to insights into their buying behavior. Important clues that are outside the traditional spectrum of big data collection.

Further reading – Martin Lindstrom

  • Small Data – The Tiny Clues That Uncover Huge Trends
  • Buyology – Truth and Lies About Why We Buy
  • Brandwashed– Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy

Disclaimer: I have zero affiliation with this book, the author or the publisher.