data set mining

“Have you got all this in a spreadsheet?”

This is often my question upon arriving at a business and a new client tells me all about their customer base.

I hate spreadsheets.

Most often, the answer is ‘no’. Most often this answer comes from a business that does a good degree of business online and most of it via a computer in some way or other.

This is the wrong answer.

The beauty of modern business is that it comes with a slew of data. Companies such as Google or Facebook made their fortunes realising how valuable that is to enable them to sell things. Some businesses realise this. But very few realise that data mining is hugely valuable for ideas and for marketing.

There are stories in there.

I am terrible at science, but there should be a formula that goes something like Data X x Data Y + Interesting correlation = story. It is simple PR stuff.

Let’s imagine a stationery business. Most red pens are sold in Nottingham. Most blue pens are bought by men aged 55-59. No men have ever bought a green pen. Women buy 75% of pencils sold. Millennials purchased 200% more paper than in previous years. You get the idea.

These are all story starters that someone creative could turn into headlines. It doesn’t take much. But it does take a good eye for facts and for the media mindset. It also takes skill to know what to do with the data you are mining and how to represent it.

There is another way to do this too. This requires slightly more skill and insight into the sort of business you are dealing with. Whereas browsing spreadsheets is like mining an established seam, this is like digging a hole not knowing what is there. Or, to put it more simply, it is guesswork.

Working backwards, I conjure up data-led stories that would work for the company in question and then see if the numbers can back it up. It helps if you have a really good data or programming person onside in the business.

If the numbers don’t exist, then you can always make them.

I don’t mean by lying. Although some may be tempted.

Just look at advertising for how this works. You create the story. So, most professional novelists use our red pens. Most cancer surgeons use green felt tips. Most cartoonists use Brand X pencils.

Note, it does not say ‘buy’. If you send every professional novelist in the UK a red pen then chances are you can survey them and ask ‘did you use that?’ If 51% say yes then your claim is true. 8/10 ad men and women say they prefer to do it that way. Watch the ads and pay attention next time you see a usage statistic.

Everyone uses a freebie. Especially if it is something they are likely to use anyway.