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Nappies, nations and Napoleon

Thanks so much to those of you who provided encouragement and feedback to our first edition. To those of you who commented on its light and reader-friendly content, hopefully you’ll find this one just as interesting! Maximum reading time is about five minutes.

In this issue:

  • We look at the phenomenon called “big data”, and what it might mean for you;
  • We explore the propensity of differing nationalities to say “yes”;
  • Our graph of the month highlight’s Napoleon’s Russian folly;
  • We applaud an innovative piece of random sampling; and
  • Jetty Research is now an approved LGP contractor !

What do beer and nappies have in common?

One of the buzz words in research these days is “big data”. So what is this, and how might it apply to you?

In simplest terms, big data is a large quantity of unstructured information. It might be a huge volume of sales transactions, periodic observations (traffic movements, river flow etc.) or something as prosaic as an accumulation of parking fines by time and place.

Strictly speaking, big data involves massive amounts of information: think US retail giant Wal Mart’s one million transactions per hour, or (better still) the Large Hadron Collider’s 600 million collisions per second. But the principle of analysing seemingly random information for possible useful correlations (also known as data mining? another research buzz word) applies even if your dataset isn’t quite this huge.

Which brings us to the story ?part true, part fable ? of the US retailer which by digging through its sales data uncovered a strong correlation in beer and nappy sales ? but only on Friday afternoons. It surmised (the legend goes) that young dads buying nappies were also buying beer ? maybe to drown their sorrows while their child-free mates were out on the town! By placing the beer and nappies side by side at the end of each working week, it allegedly increased sales of both items.

So if you have your own mountain of data, but neither the time nor experience to make sense of it, consider Jetty Research. We have the tools, the software and the expertise to hopefully uncover your own “light bulb? insights.

Cross-cultural interviewing: just say ‘yes’

A recent multi-country survey of 11,000 respondents (across 15 countries) indicated huge variances in the propensity of different nationalities to answer “yes? to a question, like something, or agree to a statement.

For example, respondents in India were 55 per cent more likely than those in Japan to say “yes? to a simple yes-no question. Likewise Chinese were significantly more likely than Japanese and Northern Europeans to agree with a statement, and the least likely of any country group to disagree. (Let us know if you’d like a more detailed summary of the findings.)

In Australia, of course, most of our surveys are cross-cultural. Giving us yet one more thing to consider when constructing a clear and unbiased survey questionnaire.

Graph of the month: Napoleon in Russia

Click to enlarge

Graph of the month: Napoleon in Russia

This month’s graph, hand-drawn in 1869 by French engineer Charles Minard, graphically shows Napoleon’s ill-fated invasion of Russia in 1812-13. The bone-coloured line (below) shows the direction of Napoleon’s advance as his 422,000-strong army entered Russia in autumn 1812, while its width indicates number of troops. With winter closing in, the rapidly narrowing line starkly shows the toll taken by cold and Russian forces.

Finding Moscow (far right) razed and deserted, and hence deprived of food, the black line shows the French army’s retreat back to the Polish border – again the width of the line indicating fast-declining troop numbers. Meanwhile the line graph at the bottom shows the temperature at each stage of the retreat – from a mere freezing when leaving Moscow down to -30 degrees C, as the remnants of Napoloeon’s forces (now numbering less than 10,0000) finally completed their withdrawal.

So in one two-dimensional graph, you have the variables of direction, size, location, time and temperature – collectively painting a vivid picture of the French emperor’s folly.

Minard’s masterpiece hangs in the Jetty Research foyer – reminding us every day that there is always a better way to visually represent data.

Triple J’s Hottest 100: Random sampling for fun or profit

Many of you would be familiar with Triple J’s Top 100, now in its 26th year. Every year, Triple J listeners vote online for their favourite ten songs of the previous year. The top 100 are then counted down, in order of voting, on Australia Day.

This year over 1.5 million votes were cast. There’s always a huge veil of secrecy about the results, and some betting agencies accept bets on which song will take the coveted #1 spot.

What was different this time around was that Triple J invited listeners to publicise their votes on Facebook and Twitter. Thousands did just that, leading a couple of enterprising guys from Brisbane to “data mine” 35,081 of those 1.5 million votes: about 2.4 per cent of the total. Happily they weren’t in it for the dough, instead publishing their “Warmest 100” online -and well ahead of Australia Day.

The results were impressive. Not only did they successfully pick 92 of the top 100, but the whole Top 10 – and five of these (including the top three) in the correct position.

For those who have trouble getting their head around how a relatively small sample can accurately represent the views of a huge population, this is a fantastic real-life example of how random sampling actually works.

Jetty is now LGP-approved!

Jetty is now LGP-approved!We are delighted to announce that following a rigorous screening process, Jetty Research is now an approved contractor for research and community engagement services under the Local Government Procurement (LGP) program.

LGP enjoys prescription status under the NSW Local Government Act. This means councils are able, if they wish, to use approved suppliers such as Jetty Research without taking contracts to open tender.

Please contact us, or LGP, if you would like further information.

Thanks so much for reading – for further information on any of these articles, please don’t hesitate to contact us. And if you have the time, constructive feedback is always welcome.

Otherwise, keep an eye out for our next newsletter in April.