Small Data - what if your data isn't 'big'

Belake Research Ltd is really excited about the development of the big data world. But what do you do if your data isn't big? Many small and medium sized enterprises don't capture data routinely, and have only the barest details on their customers. This was just the problem that fitness experts ManAlive came to us with.

ManAlive LogoManAlive is a new and unique fitness programme that is achieving incredible results helping those who want to lose weight and have a healthier lifestyle.


Despite only one in five of us hitting our recommended exercise levels, the number that actually go to the gym is low at just 1 in 10 in the UK. Most of us acknowledge the need to stay fit and healthy, but yet so few of us actually do.

Many people really don't enjoy the gym, so getting the motivation to actually get there once in a while is difficult. Once you do get there your instructor is some young chiseled fitness fanatic who has never had to balance a fitness regime against the demands of a stressful job, a 2 hour daily commute, a mortgage and three small children.

It's no wonder that only 27% of gym members actually regularly go to the gym.

ManAlive recognised the need for a different approach to fitness, and their regime is like no other. Perhaps most striking is that training is just one of the 6 areas they focus on, the other five being Nutrition, Motivation, Support, Accountability and Enjoyment - yes, Enjoyment! They've recognised that training in a team environment is far more effective than on your own. They actively build a sense of team within their sessions, which pays dividends as team members motivate and support each other, and all have similar fitness challenges and reasons for being there. The final piece of the puzzle is that they take the gym out of the equation - all training is done out doors in a neutral environment.

With an awesome programme, ManAlive quickly grew in popularity to 8 concurrent programmes across 24 weekly sessions.  But with rapid growth and most of their sessions being delivered outdoors in a field, data capture wasn't high on the priorities list. That is, until they wanted to find out more about their own customers.

This was the challenge they set us: to build one or more customer profiles, setting out the typical demographics, needs, aspirations and motivations of a typical customer. It might be more than one typical customer, but that was up to us to find out. But they also told us they didn't collect customer data.

So of course we undertook a data collection exercise, didn't we? No, we did not.

We started by finding out what they did have - just a Facebook page and a form on their website for people to sign up to a programme. The website form only has 6 questions, four of which were name, email, phone and preferred session, and the other two were free text fields. And the Facebook page was, well, a Facebook page.

So still no structured data to work with. Cue that data collection exercise now? Nope.

This was actually a rich data set to work with. Using text analytics we were actually able to extract a significant amount of intelligence from the free text fields on the web forms. We also extracted text from Facebook comments, and combined this with the web form data to create an even richer data set. From this we found that ManAlive's customers fell into four distinct groups which would respond to different advertising messages. This had a radical impact on their marketing strategy, as they adapt their marketing material to tailor it to specific audiences.

But it also revealed information we'd never have thought to ask. For example there was a sizable portion of the participants that were concerned about body image and the way they looked. Many expressed how their fitness issues affected their mental state too. It seems men are not so different to women after all.....

But there are lessons from this project which would be relevant to any business:

  • There's a lot you can do even when you don't have much data, if you mix it with good analytics
  • You don't need masses of data to find out something about your customers
  • Free text fields contain a surprising amount of data that can be more revealing than standard survey questions
  • Even a Facebook page can be a useful resource when finding something out about your customers

So, if you're feeling left out of the Big Data revolution, get in touch and start the Small Data revolution with us!

And, just in case you're worrying, there's a WomanAlive programme too!