Crosstab analysis as an analytical tool

Editor’s note: Eliza Jacobs is the senior learning enablement manager at aytm. This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared under the title “Cross tabs for survey results: A beginner’s guide.

In the modern insights-driven market, you need to get as much out of your data as possible to remain competitive. This is only possible if you use the right analytical tools. One useful analytical tool is crosstabulation analysis (crosstabs). Organizations use crosstabs to simplify data results and extract previously unseen insights that can drive initiatives. This article will explain what a crosstab is, when you should use it and the benefits.

What is crosstab analysis?

Crosstab analysis is often used in market research to better understand your target market and the different demographic groups within it. Crosstabs can uncover relationships in the data that can help guide your business decisions. Think of it as a method of zooming in to get more detailed information from your surveys.

Simply put, crosstabs are used to analyze the relationship between two or more groups or variables. Crosstab data tables display the results for the entire sample of respondents, as well as any subgroups. The cells in a crosstab table identify the number of respondents that share the characteristics used in the analysis. 

One of the strengths of crosstab analysis is that it can help identify relationships that may not be obvious when looking at raw data or tabulated data for the entire sample. This is particularly useful in market research where the objective is to learn more about the perceptions of the target market. 

Here is a simple example illustrating two different approaches to understanding data and how crosstabs can help. Instead of posing a somewhat generic question “How many people like our brand?” consider asking this: “What is the difference between the way men and women view our brand?” Crosstabs can be used to examine the second question regarding potential gender differences. The results from this kind of analysis are more applicable and actionable than the more general question. 

When to use crosstab analysis

A crosstab analysis is often best suited to analyzing categorical data data where mutually exclusive groups exist. Categorical data could include anything from the gender, occupation or geographical location of the respondents. If you are collecting data from these subgroups, crosstabs can help identify if there are any correlations or relationships between them. 

For example, instead of fielding a survey to 400 people and asking them if they like your brand, you could drill down and collect data on their gender, age or occupation. Using these additional variables or attributes, you could then run crosstabs to learn if there are any differences between those groups. You may find that working women of a certain age are the most likely demographic to purchase your product. This can be incredibly useful in a variety of areas, including marketing.

Crosstabs are a versatile analytical tool that could also help you gain additional insights into your own organization. You can field a survey to your employees to capture job satisfaction. Crosstabs may lend itself to gathering insights into what factors are driving levels of job satisfaction, among what departments job satisfaction is highest or, conversely, lowest.

One word of caution, you should be aware that crosstabs cannot be used with an unlimited number of subgroups. If you add too many, your data tables can become complicated, which may obscure the most important insights. 

Finally, there’s one more aspect you need to understand regarding this type of analysis – it can be challenging to determine if the crosstab correlations are statistically significant. To ensure that your insights are reliable, you may want to consider using a tool that can measure the significance of your crosstab correlations but more on that in a moment. 

The benefits of crosstab analysis

The biggest benefit of crosstab analysis is its ability to help you examine and assess the relationships between groups in your data. In market research, crosstabs can be a way to get to know your target market better so that you understand what you need to do to reach them. Generally, crosstabs are credited with three main benefits. 

  1. Reduces errors and simplifies
  2. Provides additional insights
  3. Delivers actionable knowledge

When it comes to simplification, raw data may be difficult to interpret. Large data sets can be overwhelming. Complicated survey results could lead you to the wrong conclusions, impacting business strategies and costing your organization money and time. Crosstabs bring clarity by breaking down large data sets into smaller ones. This benefit allows you to be more accurate in your interpretation and more efficient in your analysis. Additional insights may also reveal themselves when you examine the relationships between subgroups and variables in your data. These insights would most likely have gone unnoticed through traditional analysis of the raw data. Finally, the information you extract from crosstabs is more specific, which means that it is more actionable.