Friday, September 29, 2006

Analytic Paradox

Why are simple questions so difficult to answer?

A few years ago I wrote an article about this one. The basic premise was that a lot of marketing questions like "how have our customers changed?" weren't easily defined in terms of predefined 'dimensions and facts'. The argument was made that the available tools didn't fit that kind of question; they were built for more structured ones like "what is the sales split by standard segment?" While important, it wasn't going to help find something new that could be leveraged.

At the time I argued that
The technology should be indifferent to what you ask and where you want to go. It should be just as adept at manipulating the non-buyer as it is the buyer, such as creating a segment of people who haven't bought in the past six months. There should be no proscribed paths for navigation. And all of this must perform at train-of-thought speeds so that the "Aha!" moment isn't lost while watching the hourglass, or worse, waiting for a new report or database to be built.

In short there should be no penalty for asking a new question. Still think the above is true, but rather than a tool targeted just to marketing there are general needs in the business for such flexibility. Maybe the next generation of tools will mutate enough to drive the marginal cost of a new question to zero.

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