Can you design for Big Data?

If you’re a catalog designer you have been, or at least should have been, using data to inform your designs. But is it “Big Data”? Ah there’s the rub.

Engaging with Big Data

Most catalogers don’t have enough customer data to really meet the big data threshold. Co-ops have that kind of reach, but not the average cataloger. And what would we do with it? If I tell you that 77% of all women over 45 prefer light blue to pink, would it change how you showcase products that have a light blue and a pink option? I made that up BTW, I don’t actually know if it’s 77%, but you get my drift. There are many, many things we can garner from customer purchasing patterns that can be used to create sales lift. But every catalog is different. Just because most women over 45 prefer light blue to pink doesn’t mean your customers do. Does big data reflect your customers or just most customers? If Amazon sees a trend or a shift will you see it too? That would be worth knowing.

Herds vs Tribes

To me big data addresses herds. All customers are in the big data herd, but they are also individuals in smaller tribes (Thank you Seth Godin). Once you, as a savvy marketer, can figure out how to engage them, they become part of your tribe. While they are still part of the herd, their individuality, what makes them different, is what makes them attracted to your tribe. If your tribe appeals to aging punk rockers, or fashion rebels, they may think light blue options are for suckers. If your tribe appeals to grandmothers who do cross stitch and collect cat art, then light blue options may be seen as easy, go-to choices.

The Napoleon Dynamite conundrum

Years ago Netflix offered $1,000,000 to anyone who could improve the predictive algorithm that serves up recommendations to customers by 10%. The mountain all comers died on was Napoleon Dynamite. It just couldn’t be predicted with any accuracy. There’s a Napoleon Dynamite tribe within the herd, but it’s hard to predict who is in the tribe based on other preferences.  To me the equally interesting thing to consider is does a Napoleon Dynamite preference indicate a preference for anything else?

Stay curious

Great catalog designers look at both big data, and customer data, to tease out what resonates with their tribe.  Curiosity about the differences between the two is where you find the cool ideas and hidden gems that delight the tribe. Don’t be afraid to stand out or be a little weird. Don’t confuse the herd with the tribe.


All the best,
Sarah Fletcher

President/Creative Director Catalog Design Studios Inc.
Co-Founder Catalog University


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