Investors put more than $3.6 billion into Big Data startups in 2013, but now Big Data is reaching the peak of its buzz. One reason may be that, though the promise of Big Data is huge, data sets are often unwieldy and unnecessary.

Big Data is all about volume. It requires powerful machines and seasoned data scientists to turn raw information into insights. Even at large companies, allocating the right resources and translating information between departments and disciplines can be tricky. And when insights are squeezed from the Big Data stone, how to put them to use is often unclear.

For example, in a recent study, 45% of organizations surveyed said they aren't even able to pinpoint the right audience for their messages most of the time. And only one-third of ad agencies are using big data to drive more than half of their marketing initiatives. Working with Big Data is challenging.

The antidote? Small data.

What Small Data Means for Marketers

Small data, in essence, recognizes the value of fewer, more relevant data points. The value of data shouldn't depend on its volume but on its quality and how it is analyzed, interpreted, and put to use. Small data is about focusing on real-use cases, collecting only the right type and amount of data, and applying it with maximum efficiency and contextual relevance.

For marketers, small data means specific, bounded data sets. It may mean working with a smaller sample size (perhaps a small slice of your customer base) or focusing only on the details that drive your business. Small data can help brands personalize, curate, and deliver more of what customers want in a timely fashion. Best of all, that kind of data is all around us, encompassing everything from weather to foot traffic to search and beyond.

Using small data as described above, brands can become more human. They can determine exactly what people want at a specific point in time and deliver it in a personalized and relevant manner.

Big Data has pushed the science of marketing forward, but it's time to start breaking data into manageable pieces. If we do, small data could fundamentally change the marketing dynamic—for the better. Small data could provide the bridge between the interests of the customer and that of the marketer.

Connecting Consumers and Marketers

Consumers want to be entertained and informed; they want to connect with people, ideas, and products that can make their lives better in ways large and small. Marketers, meanwhile, represent these people, ideas, and products. The best thing small data can do is connect people with the things they want, and smart marketers armed with small data will be the driving force that makes that connection happen.

Of course, marketers are people, too—and consumers in their own right. And with small data, both sides can start to see each other as people again. That is possible because small data is inherently more customer-focused, allowing marketers to identify and understand their customers and enabling customers to find the brands and products they want when and where they want them.

For example, most people are familiar with the frustration that comes from needing to buy a certain item quickly and not knowing where to shop for it. When brick-and-mortar stores are able to combine customer-focused small data, such as location, search history, and brand preferences with store-focused small data like inventory, connecting people with the items they're already looking for in real time is possible. This kind of interaction is the key to building a more symbiotic customer-brand relationship.

Small Data for social media Marketing

Small data also has huge potential to power better advertising, particularly in social. Using small data (e.g., location, brand affiliation, time of day, and purchase history) and combining it with social data (e.g., friends' preferences, status updates and previous brand interactions on social networks) marketers can deliver a seamless and positive social advertising experience. For example, if a hotel chain has a last-minute vacancy, that piece of small data could be used to trigger a social ad targeted at people who like to travel or who have stayed at that chain the past, ensuring that the ad is both timely and relevant.

In a real-world example, one e-commerce company was able to compare search data to purchase behaviors to figure out which of their customers were the most valuable and how to restructure its app to appeal to those customers. By segmenting its user base into two small data sets, the company discovered that those who performed brand-specific searches were worth 154% more than those who didn't. The company then enhanced its apps' searchability to cater to those high-value customers, providing them with a better experience and enhancing the bottom line at the same time, a win-win proposition.

* * *

With the application of small data, building a mutually beneficial relationship between brands and consumers—one that strengthens our economy and helps individuals lead happier, healthier, more connected lives—is possible. That's the vision of a more human approach to marketing, and small data is the engine that will power it.

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image of Jamie Tedford

Jamie Tedford is founder and CEO of Brand Networks, a provider of data-driven marketing solutions.

LinkedIn: Jamie Tedford

Twitter: @jamietedford