Article #49: Microsoft Excel plug-ins

Tim Macer evaluates two new software tools which 'plug in' to the common Microsoft Excel program

Solutions which excel


The virtual ubiquity of Microsoft Office on the corporate desktop is encouraging a new breed of 'plug in' software that sits inside Word or Excel, turning a generalist program into a specific professional tool. Following last month's review of SPSS MR's mrPaper, which works within Word, we reveal another two symbiotic programs where, this time, the host is Microsoft Excel.
Brand Map, from WRC Research in Chicago, is an ingenious correspondence mapping tool that sits within the familiar environment of Excel. It appears as a special Brand Map drop-down menu from the main menu bar. You can produce a bi-plot, a correspondence map or a multi-dimensional preference map, or plot any factors you have created in another stats package. Correspondence maps are the classic perceptual maps that convert a battery of semantic scales into a simple chart showing the spatial relationship of the different brands in relation to a distillation of the different attributes. Bi-plots are an innovation in Brand Map that uses an absolute scale rather than a relative scale.
You start by importing accumulated values from your tables, not raw data. If your tabs are in electronic form, it is a simple cut and paste job to bring across texts and values, otherwise it will take you a minute or two to type them in. Next, you click on the option to plot, click through a panel of options and your map will appear on a separate sheet within the Excel workbook.
Perceptual maps can often look cluttered, especially when all the lines and labels collide with each other. These look good and are informative even if you simply accept all the default options. For the statistically literate, there are dozens of options to fine-tune both calculation and presentation options. For example, you can adjust the confidence levels so that you exclude the more weakly associated items that can be a distraction. Despite the impression it gives, this is a heavy-duty program with universal appeal. Charts can be emailed to anyone with Excel - you do not need Brand Map to view the maps.
Brand Map is one of the main solutions in use in Millward Brown's offices worldwide.Alison Fisher, a Senior Statistical Consultant at Millward Brown UK, has experience of many different mapping programs. "We do an enormous amount of
Brand Map and OnTraq: pros and cons
Brand Map Pros
Data visualisation for statisticians and non-statisticians
Clear, uncluttered output
Quick and easy to use
Only works with Windows version of Excel
On Traq Pros
Automates continuous research
Considerably reduces scope for error
Keeps a complete audit trail of all waves and versions
Only works with QPSMR software
Still a fairly technical solution
No manual yet

Click for full size image

'Simple things should be simple to do, but complex needs must not be compromised'

correspondence analysis here - we always have image grids on our questionnaire. You can't just look at a table of data as it is very difficult to see what is going on behind the numbers. Correspondence analysis gets to the heart of what is happening. The good thing with Brand Map is it is a lot more user-friendly - the graphics are a lot better. Some of the other packages are hard to interpret. Brand Map is very simple, straightforward, smart and clients love it."
Data processing professionals can benefit from another Excel innovation from MRDC in London, called OnTraq. This is a very welcome utility for managing continuous research projects. It has been designed to work with the QPSMR suite of data collection and analysis software.
Specialist software tools are largely designed for the one-off, throw-away survey. To cope with wave upon wave of similar but different questionnaires, where questions, answers and the data positions can vary in arbitrary and subtle ways, DP staff have to manage the change for themselves.
MRDC's md Phil Hearn devised the tool for use in his own bureau, but now has customers using it around the world. "The prime thought behind is that simple things should be simple to

do, but at the same time, complex needs must not be compromised. Typically, command languages handle such projects badly and necessitate a specwriter changing many lines of code each time the project is run - and specwriters nearly always underestimate the time they expect to take!"
OnTraq allows you to lay out all of the differences in an Excel spreadsheet. Adding a new wave is simply a matter of adding a new column and entering a range of codes and snippets of the syntax. It supports all kinds of change: new questions, new codes, questions that disappear or reappear from wave to wave. It even supports multiple versions of a questionnaire within a single wave. Once the information for the new wave has been added, a single click will generate the spec. files and run the tables.
Best of all, as the waves roll by, you have a complete record of all the changes that have ever taken place on the job. It is just a pity it only works with QPSMR.

Brand Map (WRC Research)

OnTraq (MRDC)

Tim Macer writes as an independent specialist in software for market research. His website is at

Published in Research, the magazine of the Market Research Society, January 2001, Issue 416.

© Copyright Tim Macer/Market Research Society 2001. All rights reserved. Reproduced with permission.

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