Big Data, Thick Data, or Just Good Data?

By Brandon Hull, Foodable Industry Expert

We are in a dizzying age, aren’t we, restaurant leaders?

Apple just announced their release of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. To an Apple fanatic, they’re breakthrough products, due to the phone's size, speed, and how they effectively handle data and payments.

The common mentality today is everything is dramatically faster and better when it’s digital and dripping with data and this has many restaurant operators’ heads spinning.

I mean, you just read about the changing role of the restaurant CMO in 2015 a couple of weeks ago, and were likely still sorting through your team’s most recent Big Data meeting and, wait, holy smokes, visible right there in the side mirror, here comes “Thick Data.” Uh huh, you’ve got a new digital term to understand. And trust me, you’re going to hear it.

Big Data vs. Thick Data.

What’s the difference between Big Data and Thick Data?

As far as we’re concerned, Big Data represents the mounds of data you’ve amassed on your sales, guests, and locations, including point-of-sale data, loyalty club data, and data from online ordering, mobile apps, your email list, your competitors’ locations, factual data and so on. While, Thick Data represents the emotional context and qualitative meaning and insights you collect from customer interactions and the marketplace.

Big Data exists because technology has taken us there and because your gut and mind are biased by your own experiences at the exclusion of others’. Thick Data exists because here’s a news flash: Big Data isn’t enough, even if it has earned its capital letters.

So which do you want, Big or Thick Data?

Aha -- you’re throwing in a trick question, aren’t you? Big Data or Thick Data? Choose one. I see what you did there.

Let’s Look at an Example– You’re a big brand and you want to look at one campaign’s effectiveness– Did that limited time offer you launched in March pay off? How do you know for sure?

Big Data says you pull in store sales, while doing a variety of comparisons.This menu item versus that menu item. This store versus that store. And so on.

Thick Data says you look at what was happening in each of your individual stores during March: What were the factors that contributed to sales that aren’t visible in the Big Data numbers? Staff issues? Weather? Big events? Huge local news that caught everyone’s attention? Roads shut down that torpedoed sales for Location X? And what was happening with the brand on social media?

The Importance of Good Data 

If you want to make bold decisions for your brand, it’s good, reliable data you’re after. Let’s put it in big-boy britches: “Good Data.” Not good, as in, only positive data. Good, as in, valuable and reliable data that tells you the real story– including any harsh realities, like how your restaurant or brand is performing and how it’s likely to perform in the future.

The new important job of a restaurant CEO and CMO and maybe even CIO, at this point, is to ensure your brand is gathering the best intelligence, so it can to make informed decisions, layered with your team’s experience. As stated on Wired, your Big Data is worthless if there’s no real world context. But your Thick Data – your gut decisions, your insights gleaned outside of the unstructured data pouring in – aren’t always wise if they’re not backed up by the Big Data that’s waiting for you to use it.

Today, you need a blend of Big Data and Thick Data to get at the Good Data.