Impressionism & Analytics?

There’s nothing quite as creative as numbers.” 

That sarcastic endorsement is an attempt to undermine the validity of measurements. And especially of conclusions based on such “evidence.”

Impressionism got its name in like vein when Claude Monet’s “Impression Sunrise” was reviewed in 1874.

The similarities don’t stop there. I was struck by this as I studied Monet’s “The Portal of Rouen Cathedral in Morning Light” on a recent visit to the J. Paul Getty Museum.

Two aspects in particular struck me as noteworthy.

1. Different points in time.

Monet created his Rouen series over two sessions of three months each in 1892 and 1893. He set up multiple easels and would move from one canvas to another as the day progressed, trying to capture subtle differences in color and light. In all he produced some 30 paintings, 20 of which he deemed worthy of exhibit.

Numbers are also simply a snapshot. Just as Monet’s perspective changed with time of day or weather conditions, so will yours. In email for example, the open or click-through rate of a single email offers one glimpse of engagement. Comparing that to your overall averages offers another. Grouping engagement by type of message–fundraising, newsletter, advocacy, etc.–yet another. Looking at industry benchmarks still another.

2. Keep an open perspective.

I was struck, as I stood in front of the painting, at how it “changes” depending on where you stand. Too close, and you see only mottled brush strokes; as you pull away the building begins to take shape. In the same way, individual data points can sometimes be confusing. What do response rates to this mailing, or from that segment mean? Should we consider this return on investment a success? Only as you build history can you begin to develop context that allows you to answer these questions. 

And, like stepping away from the painting, you’ll discover an entirely different perspective when you take a longer view. Breakeven on a single mailing has the chance to become lifetime (or long term) value of a constituent. Retention rates among first-time donors look dramatically different than those of repeat donors. Length of time on file may begin to take on meaning. And so forth.