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What is Descriptive Analytics? A Comprehensive Guide

In today's digital age, the importance of analytics cannot be overstated. From marketing campaigns to financial statements, businesses are relying on analytics more than ever to predict future performance and guide their strategies. But before diving into complex predictive or prescriptive analysis, understanding the basics of descriptive analytics is crucial. Let's explore this form of analysis in its simplest form, its significance, and its application across various industries.
descriptive analytics guide

1) What is descriptive analytics?

At its core, descriptive analytics is the simplest form of data analysis. It provides a snapshot of past events and tells us “what has happened?” Using descriptive statistics and common visualization techniques like pie charts and bar charts, analysts present vast amounts of data in a format suitable for stakeholders to digest. These visuals offer businesses a look into their performance metrics, such as profit margins and sales performance, from previous periods.


2) Descriptive vs. Predictive vs. Prescriptive Analytics

There are several key types of analytics:

  • Descriptive Analytics: As mentioned, it focuses on past performance. Think financial metrics from previous quarters or the conversion rates of past marketing campaigns.
  • Predictive Analytics: It ventures into forecasting. Credit scores or potential future outcomes of marketing strategies fall into this realm.
  • Prescriptive Analytics: This dives into potential actions. If you want to know the best actions to achieve successful outcomes or the routes to take to reach broad business goals, this type of analysis is your go-to.
  • Diagnostic Analytics: For those curious about why something happened, diagnostic analytics offers answers. This can involve complex statistics and a deeper dive into data.


3) Why Descriptive Analytics Matter

  1. Historical Context: Descriptive analytics provides a detailed look into past business operations. This historical context is essential for businesses to gauge where they stood and what strategies worked or didn’t.
  2. Informed Decision-Making: By analyzing previous data like sales, customer feedback, and marketing campaigns, business leaders are equipped with the necessary information to make informed decisions. This data-driven approach minimizes guesswork and reduces potential risks.
  3. Enhanced Stakeholder Communication: For stakeholders, be it investors, partners, or even employees, having descriptive data visualized through pie charts, bar graphs, or financial statements provides clarity. Clear, data-backed communication builds trust and ensures everyone is on the same page.
  4. Identification of Strengths and Weaknesses: Through descriptive analytics, businesses can identify areas where they excel and where there’s room for improvement. Such insights are invaluable for continuous growth and improvement.
  5. Setting a Foundation for Advanced Analytics: Descriptive analytics is the first step in the analytical journey. Once businesses have a firm grasp on their past performance, they are better poised to venture into predictive and prescriptive analytics, setting the course for proactive strategies and potential future outcomes.


4) Examples of Descriptive Analytics in Action

A) Production Companies

Production companies have harnessed the power of descriptive analytics to understand and optimize their operations. By meticulously examining sales performance from previous periods, these companies can discern patterns and trends. This invaluable insight allows them to accurately forecast resource requirements for upcoming quarters, ensuring they are poised to meet demand without overextending their capacities.

B) Marketing Teams

Marketing is as much about understanding data as it is about creativity. Forward-thinking marketing teams no longer rely solely on intuition; they turn to analytics to fine-tune their strategies. By thoroughly reviewing the constellation of past campaigns and analyzing the data, they can pinpoint which strategies resonated most with their audience. Particularly, they identify strategies that achieved the highest learner engagement. Armed with this knowledge, teams can adapt and craft future campaigns that not only capture attention but also drive meaningful engagement.

C) Financial Departments

Financial stability is the cornerstone of any successful enterprise, and the guardians of this stability are the financial departments. With an array of tools at their disposal, from detailed cash flow statements to visual aids like pie charts, these departments delve deep into the company’s economic metrics. They meticulously gauge a company’s financial health, scrutinizing both current performance and historical data. This rigorous analysis forms the foundation upon which predictions for future quarters are made, enabling the company to chart a course towards sustained financial success.

5) Tools and Techniques

Business Intelligence offers a plethora of tools and techniques to facilitate descriptive analysis, catering to varied requirements. Here are some prominent tools and techniques employed by businesses:

A) Bubble Charts

These provide a visual representation of data in three dimensions, often illustrating relationships between three variables.

An example of a tool that creates engaging bubble charts is Tableau. It allows users to illustrate and compare three dimensions of data simultaneously, using the X-axis, Y-axis, and the size of the bubble.

B) Bar Charts

A staple in data visualization, bar charts present categorical data with rectangular bars, allowing for straightforward comparisons.

Microsoft Excel is a foundational tool many turn to for creating bar charts. It offers a simple interface to visualize and compare data across categories.

C) Pie Charts

Widely used, pie charts showcase proportions of a whole, making it easier to grasp percentage distributions.

Google Data Studio provides easy-to-create pie charts which are ideal for showcasing proportional data, helping businesses see the percentage breakdown of a specific dataset.

D) Histograms

These offer insights into the distribution of a dataset, helping businesses understand variations.

SPSS is a statistical software that excels at creating histograms, enabling businesses to understand the frequency distribution of their data.

E) Heat Maps

Visual representations that showcase data magnitude using colors, they’re particularly useful in identifying data clusters or hotspots.

QlikView is known for its heat map capabilities. With this tool, businesses can visualize and identify patterns, correlations, or hotspots in their data based on color gradations.

F) Specialized BI Software

Beyond basic visualization techniques, companies often utilize comprehensive business intelligence platforms provided by specialized business intelligence companies. These platforms not only simplify the visualization process but also integrate advanced analytical capabilities.

Power BI by Microsoft is a comprehensive business intelligence platform that provides a host of visualization and data analysis features. From basic charts to advanced analytical functions, it’s a one-stop solution for many businesses.


6) Challenges and Limitations

While descriptive analytics plays a vital role in offering an initial overview, it comes with its challenges and limitations:

  1. Lacks Depth: Descriptive analytics provides a snapshot of past events but doesn’t delve into the reasons behind those outcomes. This can lead to an incomplete understanding, making it hard for businesses to determine the root causes of their successes or failures.
  2. No Predictive Capacity: One significant limitation is its inability to forecast future events. While it gives a clear view of what has happened, it offers no insights into what is likely to happen next.
  3. Basic Technique: Descriptive analytics is essentially a starting point in the vast domain of data analysis. It provides foundational insights but lacks the complexity and depth needed for comprehensive strategic planning.
  4. Limited Actionability: Although it sheds light on past events, descriptive analytics by itself doesn’t necessarily guide actionable strategies. For businesses to derive deeper insights and devise effective strategies, they often need to complement it with other forms of analysis.

To unlock the full potential of data and derive actionable strategies, businesses should consider integrating other analytical methods alongside descriptive analytics.


7) Conclusion and Future Trends

The world of Business Analytics is vast and continually evolving. Descriptive analytics, being the most common type, serves as the foundation upon which other types are built. However, as AI and machine learning become more integrated into analytics, there’s potential for even more nuanced insights, connecting past performance with future predictions seamlessly.

In the discussion forum below, share how you’ve used descriptive analytics in your field and explore our guide on what is data analytics and our course to learn data analytics for more in-depth learning resources.

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