“Gorge–ous” data analysis

Recently on a nature hike, I had an epiphany about data analysis while photographing the scenery. It occurred to me that there were metaphors galore out there that relate to data analysis. Searching for just the right picture in the natural world is very similar to telling our clients just the right story with their data.

Catherine Creek is a state park on the Washington State side of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. It’s well-known for its wonderful array of wildflowers in the spring, and the hiking trails are interesting without being exhausting. I highly recommend going there in the spring or even in the fall. But be forewarned, you won’t find large breath-taking flowers like you would at nursery or garden shop. Instead there is a vast ecosystem of very tiny flowers. To see them you have to look close—really close. You have to get down on your hands and knees in some places, and really zoom in. But if you just zoom in all the time, you miss the stunning vistas. So you have to have a balance. That’s when I realized the similarities between nature appreciation and data analysis.

Catherine Creek

FIRST: DON’T MISS THE BIG PICTURE
At Catherine Creek, if you look up from the meadows, you see the river below. It’s quite inspiring! This is the Columbia River National Scenic Gorge, after all, carved in part by historic Ice Age floods, and visited two centuries ago by Lewis & Clark. So this was my first lesson – don’t just zoom in and miss the big picture. The client company is counting on the research consultant to get into the details and slice and dice the data, with graphs, call-outs and highlights. But don’t start with the debris underfoot—zoom out to see the effort and impact of the whole organization. I’ve worked with many organizations whose impact I admire, even when they are having problems. They’re pretty smart to try to diagnosis the problem and make tough decisions.

straw

SECOND: EXAMINE THE SMALL DETAILS
While examining the low scrub at Catherine Creek, you’ll see a multitude of tiny flowers, patterned rocks, vivid moss and gnarled trees. On one trip we only hiked about 100 yards from the parking lot in the first 20 minutes. We were so caught up in the details of the tiny vegetation that we didn’t log a lot of steps. This gave me a new perspective on data analysis. Those small details are an essential element of the bigger story. For example, a first-person narrative, which has been collected directly from your client’s front lines, provides specific details that anchor the analysis and can be quite profound.

THIRmullinD: PATTERNS REINFORCE THE MAIN NARRATIVE
Once you see the details, you can re-focus slightly in order to see the patterns and connections that the details merge into. Those patterns provide examples you might use. Is this pattern representative of the whole picture? Can this information be extrapolated to complete the puzzle? In what way are the parts interdependent?

 

 

footprintFOURTH: LET THE DATA TALK
As in data analysis, an important picture or story can be ruined by your own impressions—in the case of nature photography, a simple boot print or paw print can wreck a shot. You need to get out of the way and let the data tell the story. That’s why in
win/loss analysis we recommend working with an unbiased outside consultant who can be a dispassionate observer. In one-on-one interviews with a third party, clients do not feel pressured to temper their remarks based on their business relationship with you. Their voice is heard and noted. No foot print.

 

pineconeFIFTH: ADJUST YOUR FOCUS
In photographing nature, sometimes you zoom in on a seed pod or a single leaf and blur the rest of the image. Other times, you zoom out and let the foreground get fuzzy in order to capture a far-off vista. That really resonates when we’re letting the data tell a story. In qualitative research, there are always contradictory stories. Your customers may complain about pricing, but what is it about your product or service where they feel the value is missing? The challenge is to do two things at once – to be immersed in the data AND see the whole story.

At Catherine Creek, I also tried to push myself to focus in on a single detail AND enjoy the grandeur all around me. It’s a tricky balance, but if you get it right it can really pay off. That’s when I realized the similarities between nature appreciation and data analysis.

 

Break Glass In Case of Emergency!

break-glass-1546171-639x618Many of my business relationships are built on long-term partnerships. They ebb and flow like the seasons, but they also endure through business cycles. Recently I got a note from a contact who told me she had saved one of my Linked In messages from a year and a half ago because she knew she’d need my win/loss analysis skills eventually. I liked that – she didn’t have budget in the current cycle, but she had a plan, and Romainiacs was in it.

She’d recently been promoted, and once the dust cleared and she got her arms around all the new challenges, she could plainly see that the path forward was going to require new customer feedback. Have you heard the saying: “In God we trust, all others must bring data?” Win/loss analysis will do just that, through one-on-one in-depth interviews with clients and prospects.

With business conditions changing constantly, it’s good to check in and get an up-to-date reading of your client’s issues—in their words. One of my favorite parts about conducting win/loss analysis for repeat customers is that you don’t just discover what’s happening with your customers at a particular point in time, you also gain insights into trends that play out over longer periods.

Whatever the case, how long has it been since you conducted a targeted exploration of your customers? How long has it been since you systematically examined, in a targeted way, what is causing you to lose accounts, or why you are able to hold on to clients for the long term? A periodic examination of what’s important to your clients is always enlightening. You don’t want to wait for a crisis, where you’re losing market share and need to move quickly. But rest assured that even if that’s the case, Romainiacs will be there to help.

Give Your Brain a Jolt

As an experienced information and market researcher I’m always on the lookout for new concepts that will help me keep pace with the quickly evolving marketing landscape. These are resources that I use to both inspire and inform Romainiacs’ efforts—because sometimes, as my mother-in-law says—you need “a jolt.”

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Barking Up the Wrong Tree: This site brings you science-based answers and expert insight on how to be awesome at life. I read the weekly blog posts from top to bottom. Sometimes I read it out loud and I frequently forward the email to others. Recent posts include these thought provoking topics:

  • How To Focus: 5 Research-Backed Secrets To Concentration
  • NYPD Hostage Negotiators On How To Persuade People: 4 New Secrets
  • A Navy SEAL Explains 8 Secrets To Grit And Resilience


Business Source: According to the research, people who read business books make more money — a lot more, and even in tough economic times. So, I’ve signed up for the premium version of Business Source, a business book summary site. Best of all, I can digest these summaries in on my phone, iPad, Kindle, or—well you get the idea—any device. For January’s installment, I watched an animated video on the book titled

  • The End of Jobs: Money, Meaning and Freedom without the 9-5.


Coursera: I just finished my first MOOC class and I can’t stop talking about it, as my colleagues will attest. I tried other open online courses before, but was disappointed. The class I just took was an Introduction to Marketing from the Wharton School of Business, which is the #1 business school in the world. The class was excellent because it was provocative, informative, and insightful. I’ve already signed up for another course. This one is on Design Thinking. If one of your New Year’s Resolutions is expand your knowledge base, you’ll want to sign up too. In an Information economy, we all have to be life-long learners and keep our skills sharp.


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Next Draft: Daniel Pink is one of my favorite authors, and he is a big fan of pushing yourself to keep current. He recently wrote that the NextDraft’s “Dave Pell scans what seems to be the entire Internet to find the most fascinating articles, which he then distills to a pithy, provocative, and punchline-packed read. I stop nearly every afternoon to give this newsletter a look.” I do, too—and I recommend that you add it your list of ‘can’t miss’ reads.