Beyond Research

Dear Christian Radio,

Does this sound familiar? You grab a fresh cup of coffee, and open up the latest report from QuickBooks, Google Analytics, your music testing service or any one of dozens of other sources. You hope for a few moments of solitude and reflection as you pour through the numbers on the page. These days, it seems like life itself is being reduced to an Excel spreadsheet.

You get dozens of automated data reports every week. Like an Egyptologist trying to decipher ancient hieroglyphics on pyramid walls, you are trying to break the code. What do the numbers mean? What could they be telling you? How can you turn the data that seems to pour into your inbox from every direction into action steps that will make your station or organization stronger?

Make no mistake; the flood of data is really a good thing. Like legendary management expert Peter Drucker is quoted as saying, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”

The problem is that our measurement has become so automated, so perfunctory, that we’re measuring more over shorter amounts of time. It’s easy to lose your perspective, to understand that a tiny shift in data may or may not be actionable. And, it’s easy to lose sight of the human factor, such as, what the numbers are telling us about what real people think.

That’s why for a long time as a consultant, I recommended to my clients that they take steps to balance their information flow. Every now and then, get out from behind your desk and away from the computer screen and really talk to people. Qualitative data amplifies the quantitative data and makes it real and actionable.

To get started, decide what questions you have from studying your data over time. What trends are suggested? What is left open to interpretation or conjecture?

These are the gaps in the numbers that need to be filled in by having a dialogue with the people represented by the data. They could be listeners, Facebook or website users, donors, or even employees. If they contributed by their behavior or input to your data flow, you need to be actually talking to them on a fairly regular basis instead of just pouring over data about them.

You might consider using focus groups, which are a valid research tool almost anyone can access. Most medium to large cities have firms that offer focus group services. They come complete with facilities that have conference rooms with a two-way mirror. You’re on one side, the customers are on the other. Each session is led by a trained facilitator. The idea is simple: to draw out great discussion that will help fill in what the numbers can’t tell us.

You’ve seen a form of this any time you’ve watched Frank Luntz on cable news do his stuff with groups of voters. In a DIY version of a focus group, you can host the discussion yourself, but know that doing so colors the answers quite a bit. In an effort to spare your feelings, many people aren’t going to tell the unvarnished truth right to your face.

A less formal way to gather good qualitative data is through a listening tour. Wherever you can assemble your target group, you can hold a discussion and pose questions that will help amplify your data reports. An ideal setting for many Christian organizations is a church. Come up with a list of questions you know will provoke dialogue and help scratch the itch the numbers have given you.

Be it formal or informal, getting in front of real people to test your theories about your next steps, marketing decisions, programming decisions and more will give you the gut check you need to move ahead with confidence. As good as data is, nothing takes the place of face-to-face meetings where you can gauge live reactions, sense emotions, and listen to people express themselves about your brand.

When it comes to data, always find ways to add the human factor to your analysis.

Dear Christian Radio…

     1. Remember the people behind the numbers. All those numbers represent real people whose opinions and lives will almost always be different than what they told you in a survey or what you’re inferring from their clicks, gifts, and purchases.
     2. Try the focus group technique. Doing so adds qualitative data to your quantitative data.
     3. Launch a listening tour. Ask your listeners and donors the same series of questions and listen to their answers.
     4. Apply the human factor. Balance your steady diet of numbers by talking to real people about what you think the data may be telling you.


Jerry Grimes
Vice President of Creative Services
Positive Alternative Radio

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