Transforming Opaque Data into an Immersive Experience

Kirk Chritton at Microsoft

My guest article for the Microsoft PowerBI blog was released today. It also includes the video that MCH CEO Peter Long and I appear in.

It’s a bit odd to summarize myself, but the basic gist of the piece is that data visualization tools like Microsoft’s PowerMap transform grey rows of data into immersive images that reveal the patterns that our eyes and brains are wired to understand. MCH Strategic Data is using these tools to help our clients gain new insights into the business-to-institution marketplace.

In the early days, our “database” of school principals consisted of metal Addressograph plates sorted into long trays. “Visualizing our data” meant looking at the green cabinet where the plates were stored.

Modern data visualization tools are the key to bringing the bits and bytes into view. Hidden patterns transform into revealing animated images that quickly convey meaning and insight.

These tools breathe life into our data just as CGI has revolutionized Hollywood animation. If MCH’s old Addressograph plates were the equivalent of stacks of hand-drawn animation cels used to generate the earliest cartoons, then the impact of visualized data is like James Cameron immersing us in a 3-D IMAX movie.

It’s been great fun to work with Microsoft on the video and blog, and it’s been even more fun to explore MCH’s data using PowerMap.

Adventures with Microsoft

Kirk Chritton at Microsoft
My Microsoft screen debut.

MCH’s relationship with Microsoft has truly blossomed. We’ve been working closely with the product team that’s developing PowerMap and other tools in the Power BI suite. In fact, CEO Peter Long and I traveled to Redmond this fall to record a video for the Microsoft folks.

After a few rounds of edits, it’s really powerful. Now we’re just waiting for the big reveal, and I’m dying to share it. As soon as it gets the green light, I’ll post it here. Watch. This. Space.

PowerMap strikes again

First day of school animation
Animation of the first day of school in districts across the U.S. created with PowerMap for Excel 2013.

Microsoft’s John Gagnon is back with a new PowerMap animation of MCH‘s first day of school data. This post on the Clickz blog features regional shading to distinguish school districts in different states. John’s focus this time around is on the added value of visualizing data using the new Microsoft tools:

Visualizing the data on a map and over time drives home many insights. One key insight: A nationally targeted campaign won’t allow you to differentiate your ad copy to cities or states which are already in school. If Los Angeles’ 640,000 students go back to school on August 13, you’d have to have the same ad messaging and bids until New York City’s 1.1 million students go back on September 9. So switching from a nationally targeted campaign to a region-specific campaign makes more sense.

Our CEO, Peter Long, and I had the opportunity to visit Microsoft headquarters last week to meet with several representatives of the PowerMap, PowerBI, and Office 365 teams. We were also interviewed on camera for a video that will be part of an upcoming product release. I’ll be sure to share that with you when it hits the internet.

AsI mentioned in my previous PowerMap post, MCH has a database of school district calendar dates available for license. Contact me at for more information. We’re just about to load the latest updates to complete the database for the 2013-2014 school calendars.

The big week for big data

DMA 2013 logoWe’re less than a month out from DMA13, the annual conference of the Direct Marketing Association, on October 12-17. Watch out, Chicago. I’ll be stalking the halls of McCormick Place representing MCH Strategic Data and the Kansas City Direct Marketing Association Sunday through Tuesday.

This conference has changed a lot since I first started attending it twelve years ago. Email, mobile, and social marketing have moved to the forefront of marketing, and the DMA has struggled to keep up with the pace. The DMA must battle the perception that “direct marketing” is synonymous with “direct mail.” Today there are untold thousands of data-driven marketers who don’t think of themselves as direct marketers even though they’re following directly in the footsteps of Lester Wunderman and the other pioneers of the profession. The new tagline of the show as “The Global Event of Data-Driven Marketers” is an important step in claiming the proper definition of direct marketing.

In the past MCH Strategic Data exhibited at the show, but that doesn’t make as much sense for us anymore. Rather than generating leads from foot traffic, most of our energy goes into pre-arranged meetings with current and potential  partners and clients. This is my annual chance to touch base with DMA friends like Pat Sabatino, Tim Slevin, and Joe Pych.

Also, the DMA used to have a variety of subgroups such as the List and Database Council and the regional association network that included the KCDMA. Those ties were severed in the big DMA shakeup of a few years ago. I’ve heard inklings that Jay Schwedelson of Worldata may be trying to reconstitute some version of the List and Database Council. The regional affiliations, unfortunately, seem to be gone for good. I would have liked to have met with my fellow regional association presidents from New York, Chicago, Detroit, etc., but that seems unlikely at least in any formally sanctioned way.

Like most years, my focus at DMA13 will be on meeting with MCH’s most important partners and clients. Will you be there? I’d love to connect with you. Send me an email at or give me a call at 800-776-6373.

Who watches the Search Engine Watch?

first-day-of-school-mch-strategic-dataRecently John Gagnon, a “Bing Evangelist” from Microsoft, approached MCH Strategic Data for assistance with an article. His premise is that consumer marketers can greatly improve the effectiveness of search engine marketing by using datasets from public and commercial sources to time their marketing strategies on a regional basis.

For example, he pointed out that some communities’ economies have a huge influx of money when a local corporation issues annual employee bonuses. Boeing issues bonuses that can be equivalent of up to three weeks of additional pay to more than 48,000 employees in the Seattle area. As a result, tens of millions of dollars flood the area on one day in February. Doesn’t it make sense for national advertisers to adjust their regional strategies based on predictable windfall events like that?

We provided John with data on the regional impact of varied back-to-school dates. Using the new geographic and time charting features of Excel 2013’s Power Map capability (download a free preview copy here), John created the animation above for his article on the Search Engine Watch blog. This makes it apparent that first day of school varies widely for districts across the lower 48 states. The earliest students back to school in 2013 were actually in Hawaii, where school started on August 5th. If marketers time their back-to-school activites to coincide with back-to-school dates in the northeast — often in mid-September — they’ve missed the window in much of the nation.

John’s article goes through this in much more detail, and includes specific recommendations to improve search engine campaigns, including:

  1. Break-out campaigns by geography
  2. Stagger campaign start dates
  3. Stagger campaign end dates
  4. Simple set-up with incremental bidding
  5. Beyond search – “Facebook targeting or display network options could open up as well.”

MCH has created a special package of national school district data with key school calendar dates including the first and last days of school, plus dates for breaks for Thanksgiving, Christmas / Hannukah, mid-winter break, and spring break. If you’re interested in learning more, touch base with me at

MCH Infinite Access 2.0 now available

It’s official. MCH Strategic Data is revealing the K-12 market like never before with MCH Infinite Access 2.0. Our online market intelligence and sales lead tool has been my primary focus for 2012, and its now better than ever. It’s been re-engineered with HTML 5 technology which makes it mobile-friendly and also provides enhanced speed and crossplatform consistency. You can read more about it over on the MCH blog.