Data without insight is like a thong without a push-up bra

Marks & Spencer insight director Steve Bond jokingly commented last week that analysts and researchers are “sworn enemies”. But while it’s good for them to be sparring partners, they ultimately need to fight on the same side.


Bond’s wider point in a presentation to journalists was that analysts and researchers can end up “pulling in opposite directions” if the hard data doesn’t marry with the anecdotal explanations. Making data and insight practically useful for a business means analysts and researchers each need to know how their work helps the other.

Analysing market data is obviously useful for identifying trends, but if researchers are asking different questions altogether then all you have is two sets of information and no greater knowledge.

M&S can provide a case in point since the retailer gets data from transactions made by 34 million customers every year. And according to Bond, the details from any UK sale made in store or online are on his department’s screens within 40 seconds of occurring.

Among the snippets of information he revealed from M&S’s transaction data are that men buying £59 dinner suits at M&S are likely to accompany the purchase with black socks from the retailer’s Autograph range.

Given that buying the suit itself from M&S is a money-saving step, compared with going to a Savile Row tailor or even a high street suit specialist, it might seem odd that the socks come from the premium Autograph range. In fact, as M&S knows, it bears out the well documented behaviour that cash-strapped consumers are cutting back in some areas while treating themselves in others.

It is the same logic behind M&S’s expansion of its Simply M&S budget food range, to go alongside its more usual high-end groceries. According to head of food business development Jill Bruce, there will be 50 per cent more product lines added this autumn, as the range grows from 500 products in the summer to around 750 in the coming months.

Incidentally, another pearl of M&S wisdom is that purchases of high-leg knickers tend to accompany bras bought at cup size DD or above, while thongs more often go in the same bag as a push-up bra. But while Bond suggests that there are sartorial insights to be gleaned here too, he declines to say what they might be.

Do you want to be recognised for peerless data insight? Then it’s time to enter the Data Strategy Awards 2013.

There are 19 awards to enter and the deadline for entry is Tuesday 9th October 2012. Gongs will be handed out on Thursday 7th February 2013 at the Lancaster London.

For details of the categories and how to enter click here.

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