So this is Christmas…

by | Dec 14, 2015

Dawn, Marketing Guru and Charlie, Keeper of Order both agreed “You really should write some seasonal blogs!”

Easy for them to say, they don’t have to spin a story that involves data and Christmas. This is a good time to point out I write my own blogs. They might not be the most eloquent but they are heartfelt. They don’t involve any animals doing something funny (funny for whom? I often ask). There is no troll-attracting vitriol. And I certainly don’t state that a mere 50 million likes will cure this specific child/whale/forest etc. Mark Zuckerberg you have certainly changed our lives, sometimes for the better, sometimes not, but God? Not there yet fella.

So, back to the topic: Christmas and data. I admit I’m struggling a bit. Christmas always seems to excite people into a frenzy; providing us facts, figures, stats and data about previous years trading, sector booms, sector slumps, the toy of the year. And of course how many days we have left to buy the perfect consumer item that is going to fundamentally alter the lives of our nearest and dearest.

What I find fascinating about it is why so much focus is placed on this time of year. All our trading hopes seem focused on it. But why?

And, this is where I start to come over all Bah Humbug.

Comparing this year’s sales or donations against last year’s is pointless. All it will tell you is that one figure is here and one figure is there. Usually the wheels of the retail PR train always put it in the context of this year: being up or down against last year, but don’t fall for it. This is spin.

Look at the chart below. It has the sales figures for 2016 and 2015. 2016 is less than 2015. Oh dear, we are doomed.











But let’s see what this looks like against the previous five years.











You can see that 2016 is a clear increase on previous years, displaying a continuation of an upward trend in sales values. 2015 was an outlier – a response to a complex set of variables during that specific period, a set of variables that we can neither fully identify or replicate.

There are two valuable lessons to be learnt here.

The first, and most obvious, is that you should never compare just two figures or outputs. Invariably it will paint an incorrect picture. All data, stats, facts and figures need context and this comes from widening out the view and setting your information within its wider landscape.

My second point is more subtle. Think of Christmas like Las Vegas: What happens in Christmas, stays in Christmas. This is really important. On the one hand I encourage you to set your data into its landscape to provide context but you need to ensure the landscape is the correct one. By this I mean that the figures that you are trying to evaluate need to be compared to, and given context from similar data. You wouldn’t dream of comparing the sales data of breakfast cereals and Mercedes Benz, likewise don’t compare Christmas with Easter or Summer, all of which represent specific times of the year each with its own unique outlook and reasons for giving.

I fear many a sales or fundraising strategy has been founded on both or either of these two fundamental mistakes. Inevitably the strategy will fail and so more data is pulled together and presented back, and will include the same mistakes. And so we go on.

It’s OK to have faith in the Christmas markets, whatever your business. But be sure to know the size and shape of those markets otherwise you‘ll get a bit more of a surprise in your stocking than you were expecting.

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