Friday, January 14, 2011

So, You're Looking For An InfoGraphic Designer...

From Benjamin Wiederkehr, Editor of, a more comprehensive list of exceptional data artists may not exist anywhere:

Nicholas Felton
Stefanie Posavec
Always With Honor
Column Five Media
Golden Section Graphics
David McCandless
Tiffany Farrant

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Understanding Seasonality: Smart Marketers Are Happy Marketers (Part I, Introduction)

The Holiday Season that was 2010 - 2011 is all but over. Looking back at what happened and when, I thought it would be interesting to take a deeper look into the role seasonality plays in marketing. It turns out that the ramifications may be bigger than we first thought...but so too is our ability as marketers to identify, plan for, and find new creative ways to employ them.

Today I will start this four-part investigation with the first installment: "Understanding Seasonality: Smart Marketers Are Happy Marketers".

It was George Santayana – Spanish philosopher, poet, and pragmatist – who once said, “To be interested in the changing seasons is a happier state of mind than to be hopelessly in love with spring.” While Santayana was no doubt speaking to wistful romantics of the time, his remarks could have been directed to marketers of today. For just as the sensitive heart looks hopeful to Spring’s promise of love, the marketer waits breathless for the holiday season that invigorates product sales. It is the sage marketer who holds a broad view of the calendar and, as Santayana’s verse implores, understands the positioning of their product throughout the seasons.

Yet even for his wisdom, Santayana may have been only half correct. Surely anticipating seasonal fluctuations and embracing a holistic approach to the marketing year are critical in today’s business landscape, but understanding the dynamics at work below the surface is the pursuit of the smart marketer. For seasonality affects more than product sales. It has far-reaching consequences that impact many elements of commerce, not the least of which being the human condition. Optimizing seasonal product promotion requires marketers to connect with the forces that shape the delicate consumer psyche. Data can illuminate these forces, and offer insights into how the savvy marketer can take advantage of them.

Understanding Seasonality: Understanding Markets (Part II)

For the better part of the modern era, seasonality has played an important role in the world’s financial markets. Price gains and profit-taking at the end of the calendar year on Wall Street has become so predictable that the phenomenon has been coined the “Santa Claus Rally”. The reasons for this year-end run up are largely unknown. Some point to tax law revisions, others to mutual fund proliferation and their year-end portfolio shuffling. But whatever the reason, for the past four decades stock market gains from November 20th to the end of January have been an astounding 23% annualized (Halpern). And the seasonal impact does not stop there – fully 95.7% of stock market profits in the last 50 years have occurred in the seasonally strong period of November to April (Halpern). In something as free and fluid as an equity market, such seasonal bias is extraordinary. It is not, however, rare.

Currency traders have long understood the seasonal nature of their markets. The summer season – and particularly the month of July – seems to be a dependable time on foreign exchange markets. Consider the Canadian dollar, which has stumbled during July in ten of the last 12 years. Meanwhile the Japanese Yen has experienced a no less seasonal reversal of fortunes, rallying in July ten out of the last 12 years. Unfortunately for New Zealanders, they more resemble Canadians than the Japanese – their New Zealand dollar has fallen in nine of the last 12 recorded Julys. The NBA would appreciate that kind of consistency, where the average pro has failed to connect on better than 75% of free throw attempts since 1960 (New York Times).

Understanding Seasonality: Understanding Consumers (Part III)

But the cyclical flow of the seasons does more than direct financial markets. A growing body of evidence supports the thought that seasons play a large role in complicated human behavior – well beyond wardrobe choices and vacation selections. The Hordaland Health Study, which surveyed nearly 30,000 Norwegians, found that seasonality was positively associated with levels of both anxiety and depression. Test subjects with even a low degree of seasonality experienced higher levels of depressive symptoms between the months of November and March than other months. The Hordaland Study is a convincing argument in support of the “Winter Blahs” and the reason you may have difficulty leaving the safe, warm cocoon of your bed for much of January.

Another, even more poignant study by the Norwegians (who seem to have a penchant for examining the effects of seasonality) found dramatic ties between the seasons and physical health. Conducted by the University of Bergen in April of 2010, the study included nearly 12,000 subjects between the ages of 40 and 44. Changes in season, it was found, were positively associated with fluctuations in waist-hip ratios, body mass index, triglyceride levels, and high cholesterol in men. Women were no more immune to changes in the season: for example, seasonality was found to be a key determinant in their levels of exercise and cigarette smoking. The report ends with the conclusion that seasonality is “associated with objective health risk factors”, as well as “health behaviors associated with an increased risk for cardiovascular diseases” (Oyane).

Often lying behind such season-based behaviors are physiological and emotional causes. Our attempts to regulate winter reductions in sunlight through artificial illumination and temperature controls lead to various changes in body temperature, making it difficult for human beings to regulate hormone production. This can ultimately lead to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a form of depression that occurs in relation to the seasons. It is noted that a rare form of SAD occurs in the summer. No word as to whether or not “Summer SAD” has taken hold in Norway, but doubtless it has been studied.

The way seasonality impacts product sales are at once obvious and little understood. Despite marketers’ best efforts to “smooth out” sales or create “tent posts” during the off-season, revenues for most categories follow familiar seasonal tendencies. Nearly half of consumer electronic sales are registered in November and December of each year, when holiday gift giving and year-end close outs abound. The majority of paint, wall covering, and home improvement product sales come in the summer months when homeowners can more comfortably spend time outside. Dog treats have no such seasonal trend as dogs, it has been found, eat and enjoy treats all year round. But sales patterns, especially for long established categories, are easily tracked and plotted and predicted. This much is well known.

Understanding Seasonality: Getting Smart (Part IV, Conclusion)

What remains less well understood are the consumer motivations that underlie seasonality or, importantly, behaviors that tip a marketer to seasonal opportunities. To what extent does consumer optimism, driven by year-end financial gains, drive holiday sales? Do traditional summer expenditures result from consumers shaking off the remains of winter restlessness? If marketing messages highlighted such themes, would they connect to consumers on a sublimely basic level such to positively impact sales? These are the questions the marketer must ask and their answers can be found through relatively simple data collection and analyses that push past sales charts to investigate consumers’ mindsets and moods.
When answers to questions of this sort are understood, data continues to offer insights into consumer behaviors. Take pest control, for example, where sales spike in the summer months presumably due to increased insect (and human) activity. But online searches for pest control products actually begin to mount much earlier in March and April of the year. This is, not coincidentally, the same time of year that online search volume for summer vacation spots begins to heat up (Google Trends). By being prominent in the late spring to consumers dreaming of summer getaways, marketers of pest control can present clear messages prior to the well recognized, and therefore ultra-competitive, seasonal spike.
As we have seen, seasonality does much more than drive familiar trends in product sales. It has considerable impact on complicated human behaviors and emotions. Understanding these impacts and how they can be used to improve product positioning and messaging should be the goal of every marketer. Collecting and analyzing data that yields such insights is the key to gaining just such understanding and to providing every marketer with a happier state of mind.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Catherine Stones, ArtisticScience Visionary

If you have not yet, you owe it to yourself to check out UK artist Catherine Stones, particularly the work she does in creating interactive charts ( There are few more exquisite examples of beauty meshed with functionality.

See below for an example, Catherine's "Lunch Hour Chart", which she describes here: "Mark the bricks with a black pen on the days you venture outside during your lunchhour. You never could meet someone interesting or have an adventure."