Hired by the world’s leading brands to find out what makes their customers tick, Martin Lindstrom spends three hundred nights a year overseas, closely observing people in their homes. His goal: to uncover their hidden desires and turn them into breakthrough products for the world’s leading brands. In a world besotted by the power of Big Data, he works like a modern-day Sherlock Holmes, accumulating small clues to help solve a stunningly diverse array of challenges. Lindstrom connects the dots in this globe-trotting narrative that will fascinate not only marketers and brand managers, but anyone interested in the infinite variations of human behavior.
Small Data combines armchair travel with forensic psychology into an interlocking series of international clue-gathering detective stories. It presents a rare behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to create global brands, and along the way, reveals surprising and counterintuitive truths about what connects us all as humans.
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About the Author
Martin Lindstrom is a foremost consultant to a who's who of leading companies. He is the author of the international bestseller, Buyology, and five other books on branding and consumer behavior. In 2009, Time Magazine recognized him as among the top 100 Most Influential People in The World, and this year, an independent study among 30,000 marketers named him the world's number #1 brand building expert.
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The Tiny Clues that Uncover Huge Trends
By Martin Lindstrom
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2016 Martin Lindstrom
All rights reserved.
How Siberian Refrigerator Doors and a Saudi Arabian Mall Created a Revolutionary Website for Russian Women
Picture a map of the globe, and you'll notice that your perception of the world revolves entirely around where in the world you live. You can't help it, and neither can I. It's automatic. The map of the universe you and I draw, with us inside it, creates an unconscious navigational system, a behavioral GPS, that we follow every day. Our internal map dictates whether we sleep on the right or the left side of the bed at night. It determines where we position ourselves when we walk down the street with a friend or partner. Do we walk to their right, or on their left, nearer to the curb or to the buildings? On a larger cultural level, where we live also determines our timeliness. For example, in Australia, you can be assured that your guests will show up thirty minutes late, often with friends in tow that they haven't told you about. In Switzerland, guests are always on time, and if they plan on being five minutes late, they will let you know. Japanese guests will show up a half hour before they are supposed to, and in Israel, they will be forty-five minutes late.
Our internal maps even determine how we season our food.
Across many parts of the Western world, salt and pepper shakers take up a prominent space on kitchen and dining room tables. As everyone knows, most are uniform in appearance: three pinprick holes on the saltshaker, and a single one atop the pepper. If you live in Asia, however, the number of holes is reversed, with three on the pepper shaker and one on the saltshaker, thanks to the popularity of pepper in Asian countries and the cultural preference for soy sauce.
This observation, and others I've put down into a journal over the years, have made me acutely aware of the placement of objects inside and outside homes. Gardens talk. Footpaths talk. Balconies talk. Mailboxes talk. Needless to say, walls talk. My mission is to decipher what the paved stones and the peonies and the artwork and the stone figurines are telling me about their owners. Why is that painting or poster hung here and not there? What about the owl figurine, the collection of medals, or dolls, or stuffed donkeys, or the wall dedicated to ancestral photos?
We leave these clues to our identities out in plain sight, but they're universal, and in a digital era, they're also indelible. One phenomenon I've noticed brings together the two.
A decade or so ago, when smartphones and tablets achieved mass penetration, it became obvious that men and women over the age of 40 found it challenging to use touch screens. They were used to bearing down on typewriter keys, depressing On and Off buttons, pulling levers and turning knobs. They came of age in a time that required a heavier touch, sometimes a fierce grip. Today, of course, touch is more often than not glancing and ghostly. In airports across the world, one or two generations of men and women stand around helplessly before the touch screen kiosks, not altogether sure of how they work or which key to press. Meanwhile, the five-year-old child beside them navigates the screen with a virtuoso's ease. By studying the number of fingerprinted smudge marks on a phone or tablet screen, it's easy to determine the approximate age of its owner.
The shift from knobs and keys to an increasingly touch-screen world has had several effects. First, thanks to computers and touchscreen note-taking apps we're losing the ability to write things out in longhand. Second, as a result of supporting the base of their smartphones with their pinky fingers, more and more teenagers have an indentation there. Third, as a species I've observed that our hands are getting weaker. Shake hands with any high school or college student, and you'll notice how weak their grips are. Among men, the messages once subtly encoded in a handshake — strength, dryness, moisture, hand size itself — may no longer be relevant.
The collective loss of hand strength has caught the notice of the fast-moving consumer goods industry, the industry term for low-priced drinks and produce designed to sell quickly, including soft drinks, processed foods and over-the-counter medicines. It's the main reason why bottle manufacturers are loosening the grips of bottle caps, why today's car door handles are easier to open and why our kitchen drawers slide out more easily.
Our digital habits are even affecting how we eat. As a boy growing up in Denmark, on hot days my friends and I ate our ice cream cones in a predictable way. We first licked the ice cream in a circular motion, as if to seal it in the cone. We continued eating our ice cream this way, and once the ice cream was gone, we finished what was left, eating from the bottom up or the top down.
If our culture today can be partly defined by the need for immediate access, it's no surprise that the desire for instant gratification has also migrated to our ice cream cones. As I travel around the world, I've made it a point to watch how children raised in a digital environment eat their ice cream cones. There is less waiting around; the concept of "anticipation" no longer exists. Instead of licking around the sides, most of them bite the ice cream off from the top. Accustomed to websites loading fast, texts and e-mails sent off and delivered in seconds, they want their ice cream now.
How will the absence of anticipation affect today's and tomorrow's younger generation? It is easy to romanticize the concept of waiting for weeks and sometimes months for something to appear in a store, or in the mail, as people did in the 1970s and '80s. Today we have it at once — and then what? With foreshortened anticipation comes less gratification, and I can't help but wonder whether today's ice cream cones pack as much satisfaction as the ones kids ate three or four decades ago. I call today's young teens and adolescents the Power Plug Generation, or Screenagers, as they're constantly searching for the nearest wall socket. The fear of being without power is like the fear of being consigned to a barren island, marooned from friends, forced, perhaps, to face who you are without a phone in your hand.
It's also worth noting that smartphones are also responsible for the increase in the time it takes to begin and end a meal in a restaurant. By analyzing footage from the early 2000s on, one New York City restaurant owner posting a study anonymously on Craigslist estimated that back in 2004 diners spent an average of 65 minutes at a table, a figure that rose to one hour and 55 minutes in 2014. In 2004, diners came into a restaurant and out of a 45-member sample group, three asked to be seated elsewhere. The sample group spent an average of eight minutes deciding what to order. The appetizers and entrees they ordered showed up within six minutes. Two out of 45 customers sent back food they complained was too cold. The average diner left five minutes after paying the check.
A decade later, things have changed. Today, 18 out of 45 customers entering a restaurant ask whether they can sit somewhere else. From that point on, their digital lives take over. Diners take out their phones and try to connect to the nearest Wi-Fi. They hunt down information or check if anyone "liked" their Facebook post, often forgetting that their menus are waiting there on the table, which is why when the waiter asks them if they're ready to order, most respond that they need more time. Twenty-one minutes later, they're ready to order. Twenty-six of them spend up to three minutes taking photos of their food. Fourteen snap photos of each other eating, and if the photos are blurry or unflattering, they retake them. Approximately one-half of all diners ask if their server would take a group photo and while he's at it, would he mind taking a few more? The second half sends their food back to the kitchen, claiming it's cold (which it is, as they've spent the past ten minutes playing with their phones and not eating). Once they pay their check, they leave the restaurant twenty minutes later, versus five minutes in 2004. As they exit, eight diners are so distracted that they bump into another diner, or a waiter, or a table, or a chair.
An imbalance? Yes, and it's also one especially prevalent right now in the United States. The cultural exaggerations I spend my business life trying to find operate both inside societies and between generations. Societies swing back and forth in more or less predictable ways. Generally speaking, in the United States, a Democratic administration follows a Republican government; in the United Kingdom, Conservatives will cede a follow-up election to Labour. This unconscious reflex to redress "imbalance" affects our wardrobes, too. One generation gravitates toward form-fitting jeans and wide neckties, while the next favors looser- fitting pants and skinny ties. One wave of young men will go through their teens and twenties cleanly shaven, and the next gravitates toward stubble or a scruffy beard. Considering Russia's history since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the issue of imbalance was one I couldn't help thinking about when I took on a complicated assignment in one of the most remote regions of the world.
My trip to the easternmost region of Russia began with a phone call I would describe as cinematic, except that the dialogue could only have been invented by a very bad screenwriter. The voice on the other end belonged to a Russian-English interpreter who was calling on behalf of his employer, a Moscow-based businessman. The businessman wanted to launch a new business in Russia with the goal of generating at least a billion dollars a year. When I asked the obvious question — what was the business? — I was told it was up to me. A few days later, the businessman and I had worked out an agreement: I would fly to Russia, spend several weeks interviewing Russian consumers, and see if I could uncover one, maybe even more, unaddressed national needs, or desires, with the mission of launching what we both hoped would be a profitable business.
What's the difference between a consumer need and a national need? It depends, but the two are often intertwined. A new business concept generally has its origins in a cultural imbalance or exaggeration — too much of something, or too little of something — which indicates that something is either missing or blocked in the society. By gathering fragments of small data, it's up to me to figure what that need is, and how it might be met.
Identifying the desire that creates these imbalances is a detailed process that can take anywhere from two days to a month to six months. Clue gathering is almost never linear. Some clues lead nowhere. Others are quirky, and potentially interesting, but irrelevant to the project I'm working on, which isn't to say they have no value, since a random observation may someday contribute to the launch of another product in a country thousands of miles away. Another, more pertinent clue may feel significant enough to form the foundation of an entire concept, start to finish. Sometimes I get things completely wrong, or the company I'm working for rejects my idea as too costly or unrealistic, and I have to start all over again. But again, no insight or observation is ever wasted. Everything we see, hear, touch, taste and feel can be recycled, or repurposed, or seen in a new perspective one year, two years, five years later.
Before entering a country I don't know well, I make it a point to ask myself a few questions. To what degree does the population — say, Italians, or Australians, or French people — come together during a crisis? (Alternately, how and in what ways, do various cultures show off their flags? In contrast to Swedes, who almost never display their national colors, Norwegians and Canadians generally sport a flag decal on their backpacks, the latter making sure the rest of the world doesn't mistake them for Americans.) One good way to answer this question is to study a population when they are overseas, and traveling as tourists. When they hear or see a familiar accent or piece of clothing, do Americans or Germans or Canadians move toward or away from one another? The reluctance to align overseas generally derives from two things: the small size of the country of origin (Norwegians, for example, are pressed up against one another enough at home), or the nation's internal socioeconomic divisions. Typically I get to see sides of countries that most tourists don't. How do the less well-off residents behave toward those with more money or privilege? What is the mood around them — fearful or relaxed?
Another thing I do when I arrive at a new airport is handpick a taxi driven by a non-native. Foreign-born residents are likely to tell you the truth about a country and a population that natives can't or won't. A Nigerian taxi driver in Los Angeles once told me that he found it ironic that everyone in the city was rushing around buying Christmas presents for people who in most cases they didn't know. He didn't have to tell me that an unspoken level of guilt, and utility, underlies many American friendships, especially in the film industry. Denmark shows up regularly on magazine and online lists as "the happiest nation on earth," yet every year tens of thousands of business professionals leave the country. In a nation of only 5.6 million people, where one in four Danish women admits to suffering from high degrees of stress, its hard not to believe that some lists can be misleading.
Denmark is also a country where, in household after household, families set out Brio train sets across their living rooms. Brio is the Swedish manufacturer of wooden, nonmotorized trains and tracks, all of the highest possible quality. At first glance it's tempting to believe that Danish families are not only happy, and want to give their children old- fashioned, well-made toys rather than iPads and computer games, but that they also welcome the cheerful disorder that comes along with having kids. Over time, though, I began noticing that none of the Brio trains or tracks in any of these Danish houses showed any evidence of chipping or degradation. No one was playing with them at all. Those train tracks and small, simple, beautiful trains were like props in a stage setting, a surface snapshot of conformity concealing deeper levels of national unease. I might add that Danish kitchen manufacturers often use the term "Conversation Kitchen" to refer to an expensive, well-appointed kitchen that is used less often for cooking than it is as a theatrical backdrop for entertaining guests.
I've traveled and worked in Russia many times in my career. There is a lot I like about the country, and about Russians in general, not the least of which is their directness. When you do business in Russia, you always know where you stand. I've had unsettling dinners with Russian CEOs and their colleagues, during which the CEO discusses the people present in the third person, as if they aren't there, while the rest of the table sits there, nodding, never once objecting or showing any emotion. Metaphorically speaking, if you're in the middle of a negotiation, a Russian will remove a knife from a handy drawer, letting you know the blade is near. In the United States, the knife is at rest, and nearby, ready for use days, weeks or months down the line. In England, the British employ what Margaret Thatcher called "the Kitchen Cabinet Approach." They are smiling, charming and polite until it comes time for the real conversation to take place hours later in the rear of the kitchen. In an analysis of over one billion pieces of emoji data across the globe, across numerous categories, it wasn't surprising to find that UK residents had the highest ratio of "winking" emojis, a means, perhaps, of compensating for their usual reserve. (To me, emojis are condensed emotions, and an unbiased reflection of a society's emotional state, imbalance and compensation.)
Russia's biggest downside, for me at least, is its lack of color. Being in Russia is like breathing different oxygen, and I can feel a gray shade pulling down over me the moment I board a plane to fly there. No one is animated. No one smiles, or laughs. Ask most Russians what they like most about visiting other countries and they'll say it's the sight of other people having fun.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Russian women weren't "allowed" to wear cosmetics. It wasn't a law, but more an unspoken protocol. This all changed in the late 1980s when the Berlin Wall fell, and cosmetics companies like Mary Kay and Maybelline entered Russia for the first time alongside nightclubs, discos, restaurants, gaming companies, car dealerships and high-end stores like Versace. Russia was awash with cash. From the airport all the way into Moscow, the billboards and flashing neon plastering the highway made it look like a colorized Russian version of Pottersville in It's a Wonderful Life.
It ended abruptly in 2006. Announcing that gambling was no different from alcohol and drug addiction, as well as a magnet for organized crime, Vladimir Putin exiled casinos and slot machine parlors to distant regions, including Armenia, Belarus, Georgia and Crimea. Overnight, Moscow's color went away, as if the capital had woken up from a short, garish dream. Nothing was left but new hues of the old gray. In short order, Russia was more or less back to its old self.
But the disappearance of color had other associations and meanings, as I would find out later.
Excerpted from Small Data by Martin Lindstrom. Copyright © 2016 Martin Lindstrom. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Foreword by Chip Heath
1 Fanning Desire: How Siberian Refrigerator Doors and a Saudi Arabian Mall Created a Revolutionary Website for Russian Women
2 Sausage, Chicken and the Pursuit of Real Happiness: Transforming the Future of How We Shop for Food
3 The United Colors of India: Selling Breakfast Cereal to Two Generations of Warring Women
4 Getting a Bead on Weight Loss (with Help from Fast Food, a Middle Eastern Movie Theater and a Hotel Lap Pool)
5 How Horses, Shirt Collars and Religious Belief Helped Recarbonate a Struggling Brazilian Beer
6 The Case of the Missing Hand Cream: How Selfies Smoothed the Way for an In-Store Fashion Revolution
7 Sleeping without a Bedspread: Charred Paper, Toy Cars and Pixie Dust Help Decipher the Meaning of “Quality” in China
8 A Glimpse Behind the Scenes: Incorporating Small Data into Your Business and Life