Deciding what application to use to crunch your numbers is nearly as mind-boggling as the data itself. Which tools work for marketers? Which don't? Part one of a three-part series.
Last month, I wrote about my experience with different analysis tools and asked for reader feedback about the tools that have worked (or not worked) for them.
Several were quick to point out no single tool resolves every reporting need. Our brains, logic, and reasoning are the most important weapons in the arsenal. I agree. A good brain can make up for the shortfalls of many reporting tools. Another reader reminds us not to forget focus groups and usability tests to explain "why" rather than "what." Another cut straight to the heart of the matter: "Most people prefer insights, not data."
True, very true. Yet the need for good analysis tools is a sore spot for many. The data available to us seem to expand at twice the rate as our time (an endangered species). Am I the only one having nightmares in which I'm surrounded by a thick fog of swirling numbers, none of which makes any sense? I don't think so, although maybe I'm the only one who admits it.
The majority who wrote rely to some extent on log files. For some, it's their only source of information. There's a real love/hate relationship between you and your log files. You love the data for its potential but hate its inaccuracies, volume, and complexity. WebTrends is probably the most well-known log file analysis tool, but readers say it's challenged by products such as ClickTracks and RedSheriff. More on that later.
Many who moved beyond log files use home-grown tools or manual intervention. Those having data warehouses say Microsoft SQL affords them freedom to access any desired information, whenever they want it. Some respondents with bigger budgets have more sophisticated tools. Based on the feedback I received, no clear winner emerges.
Microsoft Excel was mentioned by quite a few people as a tool they can't live without. Specifically, pivot tables and Spreadsheet Assistant are said to be sanity-saving devices that make sense of endless rows of data. Dylan Lewis writes, "Nothing beats the power and flexibility of an Excel worksheet." I don't know why I was surprised to see that old warhorse mentioned so often. Perhaps it's just such an integral part of the daily routine. Using Excel is like breathing.
I heard from readers all over the world: the U.S., England, Australia, and France. The collective longing we analysts have for better tools is a universal sentiment. Thank you, everyone who shared his or her experiences, tools, and thoughts. Many of you asked I share results. This is the first of a series in which I'll summarize feedback on specific tools. Next, I'll name names and share the good, the bad, and the ugly -- and tell you how to get more information on products mentioned. Until then, work on your budgets. None of these tools are free!
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Melaney Smith is a freelance marketer with more than ten years of experience in marketing, finance, and data mining. She evangelizes the need for businesses to mine their data and make it easily accessible for decision makers. She specializes in helping businesses utilize customer, transaction, and other data to improve or create sales and marketing programs.
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