Mean, Median, and Mode: Are they Actionable in Research?
As you probably know, I’m not a math-oriented person by nature. I came to research through an innate curiosity about people and what makes them tick. The combination of brand marketing and research is a good spot to land for someone who is driven by a need to understand the intricacies of human behavior and explore the “whys” in life. These fit quite neatly in the work we do with experiential, brand health, market segmentation and attitudinal studies. But the math piece, quite frankly, has not come easily to me. I suspect that’s the case for many marketers and brand managers that we work with. We recognize the importance but it wasn’t necessarily our starting point.
During a report read-out the other day, one of our numbers-savvy clients asked if we could get her the median age of respondents in their customer study. This was in addition to the mean that we’d just provided. It struck me as funny and reminded me of how far I’ve come. When I first interviewed for this position, Chris asked if I could tell him the difference between mean, median and mode. Um, no. I could tell him lots about competitive intelligence or qualitative research methods. I could speak about market analysis for tech firms, including implications of year-over-year reported earnings. But those three basic concepts did not sit at the top of my head.
Here’s a little primer in case they are not top of mind for you either:
• Mean (average): Add the numbers in the data set, then divide the total by the number of items.
• Median: Arrange the numbers in order from lowest to highest value. The middle number is the median, or, if there’s an even number then you average the two middle numbers.
• Mode: The number that repeats most often in a data set.
Anyhow, I kind of thought it might be the end of our discussion. Luckily, it was not, and I have since come to understand their practical application and relevance. Now, when a client asks about one or the other, it makes me feel good to share those little nuggets.
Practical application and relevance
At the end of the day, research needs to inform strategic plans that can have a huge impact on a company’s relevance and bottom line. My favorite pieces of the research process are wrapped up in looking for trends in the data and seeing where the story lies. I also enjoy assimilating the information and finding the best ways to communicate all of this to clients in ways that are useful and actionable. Mean, median and mode have evolved as important tools along the way.
Part 2 of this blog will show some examples of how mean, median and mode shape the story when measuring and understanding the implications of your research project.