Walk through any airport or city center, and you’re surrounded with nebulous sounding ads touting the benefit of big data and the power of the cloud.

In fact, in the span of researching this column, I was targeted relentlessly with programmatic ads that followed me around the Internet for several days.

But, despite these urgent calls to action and aggressive targeting, I would assert that, for large swaths of the hospitality industry, sometimes simple is all you need to start with. And you probably don’t have as much data as you think you have.

My last column talked about how the Park Hyatt in Tokyo over delivered with a simple data point: knowing I was arriving in the early morning. There was no need to scrape my Twitter feed, or make astounding correlations from private data. It was one simple point that I responded to based on my booking process, combined with focused effort.

The Upper House in Hong Kong did something very similar with a pre-arrival. A few simple questions that were used to assess how they could add to my experience. It was nothing technically complicated or invasive. And it allowed them to hone things accordingly. This is not to say that these hotels are not using data sets in terms of their marketing or customer segmentation, it merely says that both really understand the value in executing the basics on the front line very well.

I get the sense that many service-oriented companies are falling for the marketing claptrap of big data, when in reality they need to crawl before they walk (or run).

The simple formula in my mind seems to be simple data point + slightly more effort than your competitors make = happy customers.

This is not to say that there can’t be profile information stored. It would seem silly for a luxury hotel chain to not know things about room preferences, any food restrictions, etc. Or doing something useful with all of that loyalty data that seems to be underused.

But, just as your favorite bartender remembers your face and remembers your dry Ketel One martini, hotels should use the technology to make this experience more scalable, recurring, and not just one-off. Data should be in service to the human touch, and allow the front line to over-deliver consistently. The fewer moving parts to make this happen, the better. Because let’s face it, complexity often means lack of adoption and sometimes trying to pop a figurative wheelie fails miserably (and wastes money).

My friend Harper Reed, CTO for the Obama re-election, has been quite vocal in calling Big Data a “bullshit marketing construct.” He argues that much of their success in the campaign was based on very simple data points, like “do you support the President?” and much of what they did with email marketing was done with Excel. Also, Reed argues that most companies don’t have that much data.

Rayid Ghani, the campaign’s chief data scientist, quipped to CIO magazine that the amount of data that the ‘big data’ Obama for America campaign had to deal with with was less than he had in his home. “I have more hard disks in my apartment than the campaign had data,” Ghani said.

The world is getting more complicated. Technology companies are being more aggressive in marketing “data” and their services that go along with it as these services get more and more commodified.

So, it does beg the question for the service industry if they are creating unnecessary levels of complication, when in reality doing the basics very, very well will actually be over delivering in the eyes of customers. Sometimes simple is beautiful.

Tags: big data
Photo Credit: A man in a room at the Upper House in Hong Kong, which uses a light touch rather than big data. Roderick Eime / Flickr