Small Data: Online Identities and Emotional Insights

4 min read
By: Maddy Osman

Martin Lindstrom’s newest book, Small Data, is all about the insights that come from small moments. It stands in stark contrast to the burgeoning idea and hype behind “Big Data” and with good reason. Lindstrom is notable for his work with brands and shopper psychology in related bestsellers Buyology and Brand Washed.

Small Data takes the reader across the world and back, with Lindstrom visiting many different families and learning about lifestyles in different cultures to draw useful insights for brands in need of change.

Although a lot of the book focuses on these in-person interactions, Lindstrom also discusses a person’s online self and the masks people wear. The web is an idealized/curated version of who we really are; it’s strategie. Offline, such as things kept inside drawers or even your fridge are a better picture of who you are.

Small Data & How Desire Drives Us

Throughout Small Data, Lindstrom denotes a contrast between people’s day to day lives and their unmet (or unacknowledged) desires. Desire is fickle and elusive but happens when we’re convinced that there’s something missing in our lives. Once you think you’ve satisfied a desire, another shows up shortly after. Sometimes imagination is better than actuality, even with met desires.

Today’s desire-related problems stem from instant gratification. Lindstrom asks, how will access of anticipation affect tomorrow’s generation? It’s an interesting question to ponder when anything you need is just a click away, and credit cards make it possible to buy things without up-front payments.

Small Data & The Problem with Happiness

Lindstrom has identified a strange but understandable problem in the book Small Data. As a species, we try so hard to be happy all of the time, but it may be to our detriment. Our insistence on constant happiness practically guarantees the opposite, because we’re constantly comparing our happiness to others (and thinking we fall short based on the perceived difference). Think back on the past year – how many specific days can you remember being happy? This will help you to determine how happy you really are.

A few more notes on emotions:

Use these insights wisely in your own branding and marketing.

How Brands Affect Us

Lindstrom has done a lot of work with some of the world’s top brands and has a lot of research to back up the insights he’s gained as a result.

Brands fill the missing holes of our identities and say profound things about who we are. Consider your personal brand and how your work affiliations attribute to that brand. If you leave a company, you lose a part of yourself.

But what’s worst of all is when a person is completely unaffected by the brand they represent. Lindstrom writes about the common situation where company executives don’t even use their own products and are oblivious to their products’ failures.

Small Data & The Secrets Behind Selfies

According to Lindstrom, the average teenage girl takes 17 selfies every morning. The reason? They want approval for their outfit choice by friends, or one step deeper, are seeking affirmation at a low moment by posting their selfies online. 

It’s also interesting to note that selfies seem to be more important than the moment they memorialize, and a person who’s considered to be a social liability will be excluded from a publicly posted selfie. On the other hand, a friend sharing a selfie that includes you is a pretty good indicator of where you stand with them.

Also, consider the parallels between a girl’s Facebook wall and the wall in her room. A lot of the same thoughts and desires are expressed on both.

Small Data & Our Hidden Identities

According to Lindstrom, most people have up 10 interdependent social identities, based on answers to questions like:

You get the idea.

One thing Lindstrom said that resonated with me is the fact that we distill emotion in our passwords. They’re a chance to express ourselves in a private way and reminisce about the past, especially regarding defining moments. Knowing a person’s password is a key to truly knowing them – though don’t expect it to be freely given!

Another interesting tidbit – America has a love affair with comedians. Sure, we like to laugh, but why are we so into them? Lindstrom says that we pay millions of dollars to comedians who say the things we wish we could in public, but don’t. And it makes sense – comedians get ballsier with each passing year as the rest of us struggle to become more politically correct and not offend.

Final Thoughts

This book is excellent, because it doesn’t just focus on one society or culture, but many. And it all comes full circle when insights from one culture prove useful in understanding another. Though the level of research and time spent by Lindstrom on gathering these useful insights seems pretty cost-prohibitive for small businesses, Lindstrom provides a useful framework for conducting your own research.

Lindstrom talks about his 7C’s:

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You’ll have to read the book to truly understand what these all mean. As a final note in regards to this process, Lindstrom says that the best ideas never result from pressure. Give yourself time to process the information you find.

“If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine. It is lethal.” – Coehlo

Have you had a chance to pick up a copy of Small Data, yet? Or have some thoughts on the ideas presented by Lindstrom in the book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

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Maddy Osman

The Blogsmith

Maddy Osman is the author of Writing for Humans and Robots: The New Rules of Content Style. She's a digital native with a decade-long devotion to creating engaging, accessible, and relevant content. Her efforts have earned her a spot in BuzzSumo’s Top 100 Content Marketers and The Write Life’s 100 Best Websites for Writers. She has spoken for audiences at WordCamp US, SearchCon, and Denver Startup Week.

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You should! There are so many books that have helped me with my freelancing career so far – definitely room to write about those in your niche.