Compelling Correlations and Cunning Comparisons

The Onion and The Economist are required reading for many market researchers.  Conveniently, the two publications sometimes cross-reference each other.  Like when The Onion “reported”…

‘The Economist’ To Halt Production For Month To Let Readers Catch Up

LONDON—World-renowned news and opinion magazine The Economist announced plans to suspend any new online and print content for the next month in an effort to finally allow subscribers a chance to catch up…

Seeing my own stack of unread issues of The Economist, I decided to catch up (whilst The Economist went on publishing, of course).

Two articles immediately lent themselves to our topic of data presentation.  One article suggests  a compelling correlation, the other offers a cunning comparison.  Both are relevant for market researchers and how we look at data.

The science of justice article begins, “Court rulings depend partly on when the judge last had a snack”.  The accompanying chart suggests a compelling correlation:  clemency tends to decline until mealtime.

The chart works because of the “meal break” lines.   They add context and clarity to the timeseries data enumerated on the horizontal axis.  Withoutthe “meal break” lines, we see that the 12th case of the day has 0% favorable rulings.   With the “meal break” lines, we could say that hungry judges don’t grant parole.  Two lessons for market researchers:

  1. Add context to your timeseries data.  Say what happened.  You’re not claiming causation, you’re creating a connection for the reader to comprehend your data.  Offer the reader a helpful nudge.
  2. Schedule things (presentations/pitches/parole hearings) so you’re first in the day or first after a break. You’re more likely to get what you request.  Ignore the perception that a post-lunch audience is less attentive.  Instead, focus on the fact that a post-lunch audience is more agreeable.

The article on China’s foreign reserves takes us “Window-shopping with China’s central bank”.  China’s central bank has about $3 trillion in foreign reserves.  Instead of  “boring” US government securities, the accompanying table answers the question, “So what else could China do with the money?”

The table does two things really well.  First, it reinforces how huge a number 3 trillion is.  Second, it catalogs what China could own if it wanted to.  The table does both of these things by introducing familiar references.

It is a cunning comparison, because it plays upon nationalistic sentiments.  China could control US crop production by buying every farm in the United States—and still have over a trillion dollars leftover.  Or China could bail out the governments of Portugal, Ireland, Greece, and Spain—twice.  The Chinese government could spend one-third of its foreign reserves to own Apple, Microsoft, IBM, and Google—then go on to buy every building in Manhattan and Washington, DC.  This table reminds market researchers:

  1. Establish scale. Your data need context.  Beyond benchmarks and norms, offer your readers relevant comparisons.  Your product might cost two days’ wages in your country but two months’ wages in another country.
  2. Use provoking examples. Your audience needs engagement.  Add interest, but avoid pandering (or offending).  The Economist says China could buy the 50 most valuable sports teams which is intriguing.  But it does not suggest that Dallas Cowboys could become the Dallas Ma0 Boys which is absurd.  Or is it?  Readers can draw their own conclusions based upon the nudges you give them.

Meanwhile, The Onion offers this Counterpoint…

Oooh, Look At Me, I Read The Economist!
Eeeeeeuuuuuwww! The Economist says! The Economist says! I read The Economist! Aren’t I cool? Aren’t you impressed with me?

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