Basic Introduction to
Analytic Techniques

The following discussion compares various general approaches to data analysis, ranging from simple singlevariable
profiling and twoway crosstabulations (crosstabs) to multivariate techniques such as regression and CHAID.
Simple Profiling
The simplest way to examine data is to profile individual variables from a database. This is accomplished with
frequency distributions. The following bar graph shows a simple profile of the age distribution of customers:
We can see that the two largest age groups, 3544 and 4554, account for nearly 60% of customers; and that the
single largest group, ages 4554, accounts for 30% of all customers. And of course, we can produce similar graphs
for other variables, such as income, family size, home value, education, and so forth.
While such univariate (i.e., one variable at a time) profiles may be useful for simple tasks such as verifying
the integrity of variables in a database and getting a basic idea of the range and frequency of the variable's
values, it is unwise to base targeting definitions or other strategic decisions on them. In this case, what we
really want to know is this: How do customers differ from noncustomers?
Crosstabulation
In fact, the main goal of nearly all data mining should be to identify valid and reliable patterns which are
predictive of similarities within, and differences between, subgroups represented in the database. Simple
profiling of only one population (e.g., customers; highvalue customers; bad credit risks; people who are taking a
new, experimental drug; etc.) has severe limitations, and can even lead to a wrong or dangerous conclusion.
This is most apparent, of course, in situations such as clinical drug trials, where the inclusion of a control
or placebo group, as well as one or more treatment groups, is a standard procedure. However, this also applies to
virtually any data mining situation where we are trying to find useful patterns of information, such as target
marketing, manufacturing defect analysis, credit or fraud analysis, responsetopromotion analysis, etc.
We almost always want to know how the target market differs from the nontarget; how the loyal or highspending
customer differs from the nonloyal or lowspending customer or the noncustomer; how the good credit risk differs
from the poor one; or, in general, how the more successful or preferred outcome differs from the less successful or
less preferred outcome. The next bar graph, which is based on a crosstabulation of two variables (age and customer
status), demonstrates how much more useful this understanding of differences really is:
Now we can see that although the 4554 age group contains nearly onethird of our customers, it contains fully
40% of the noncustomers. For targeting purposes, if we are trying to identify demographic characteristics of
noncustomers who resemble our current franchise (who have already demonstrated an affinity for our brand), then it
may be better to focus on the 3544 age group and, secondarily, on the 2534 age group, since these latter two age
groups both show much higher penetration of customers within their age group than the 4554 age group, while also
accounting for 44% of all customers. This is a very different conclusion from that drawn from the previous simple
profiling, which would have been misleading.
But crosstabs or simple spreadsheets are also somewhat limited in their information value and actionability. In
reality, we usually want to examine several variables at once, especially when we are trying to explain or predict
the influences of some variables on an "outcome" variable (or "dependent" variable, because it's values depend on
the values of the predictors). E.g., if we want to try to untangle the influences of several demographic
characteristics on response to a promotional effort, so that we can understand what demographics have the greatest
influence, then we need to move up one level of analytic complexity to multivariate techniques such as regression
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Regression
Linear regression and logistic regression are two examples of
multivariate modeling techniques, of which there are also many others. Linear regression is useful when we are
using several variables to predict the values of a continuous dependent variable, such as customer value in
dollars. We can include various predictor variables such as age, income, family size, education, etc., and then use
linear regression to tell us the unique influence of each predictor on customer dollar value, controlling for the
influence of all the other predictors.
Thus, individual crosstabs may show that both age and income seem quite important predictors of customer value,
and that education is slightly important, but family size is not important. But linear regression can show us the
unique importance of each predictor by examining all of the predictors' simultaneous influences on the dependent
variable (customer value). So regression is a more powerful way of sorting out multiple influences than the
eyeballing of output from a series of twoway crosstabs.
Regression generates exact coefficients for each predictor, and shows us what proportion of the variability of
the dependent variable (customer value) is uniquely explained by each individual predictor. This makes it possible
to build a predictive model which has predictor coefficients that can be used to "score" the records in a prospect
file. This means that we can rank prospects in terms of what their likely value would be if they became customers,
based on their demographic characteristics. Armed with this knowledge, our targeting will be much more successful,
less costly and more profitable.
When the dependent variable we are trying to predict has only two values (e.g., responder vs. nonresponder to a
promotional mailing), then we can use a special type of regression called Binary Logistic Regression. As with
Linear Regression, we generate coefficients for each predictor, and these coefficients can be used to score a
prospect file to determine the best prospects for a promotional mailing. The following link takes you to
an example of logistic regression used to evaluate credit risk.
There are other variations of regressiontype techniques, such as Curvilinear Regression and Loglinear Analysis,
but we will not go into them here. Our intent is simply to point out that multivariate analysis is a much more
powerful and useful data mining technique than either univariate or bivariate analysis.
Regressiontype techniques also have limitations, however. For example, it is difficult to understand the
influence of complex interactions among predictor variables on the dependent variable. (E.g., does income influence
customer value differently for older prospects than it does for younger ones?) In order to clarify these
potentially complex interactive relationships, we would typically use other methods, either instead of regression
or in addition to it. Examples of these techniques are listed on our Marketing Analytics page.
These might include techniques such as Classification and Regression Trees (CART), Chisquare
Automatic Interaction Detection (CHAID), or Genetic Programming, etc. We will not attempt to cover
all these other techniques here. Instead, we will select one of the more easily understood techniques (CHAID) for
additional discussion. Please visit our CHAID case study page to see
an application of CHAID predictive segmentation modeling.
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