Content marketing thrives on statistics. But they’re seductive and deceptive, because they look as though they mean something, when often they don’t.
Worse, they’ve made us lazy in our thinking. If we have a statistic, then we think we’ve made a convincing point and we don’t need to look too hard at the detail.
The trouble is, our audiences are not easily seduced and deceived. They think more deeply than we do. And they check dates and sources.
So here are the first two rules of statistical clarity:
- If your stat is more than six months old, it’s much less valuable, or out of date altogether.
- If your stat comes from some obscure blog, it has no credibility.
My suspicion is that if you ran these two rules over the stats being flung out in infographics, blogs, and all the other dizzying types of content now being published, you’d eliminate 80% of them* from your consideration.
There’s one other rule of stats I’d like to put forward, which will foster far more rigorous thinking and enable genuinely creative content marketing campaigns. It is this:
There are only five ranges of numbers that mean anything.
- If your stat is below 15%, it might as well be zero.
- If your stat is above 20% up to 40%, it means one third, or quite a few.
- If your stat is above 40% up to 60%, it means half.
- If your stat is above 60% up to 75%, it means most people.
- If your stat is above 75%, it means everyone.
I know, there’s a gap. My feeling is that the numbers 16, 17, 18 and 19 are too vague to mean anything useful. Perhaps that’s why people of those ages have such a tough time making sense of the world and themselves.
So, for example, if your research says that 82% of IT managers believe that managed mobility is important, there’s not much point in publishing the stat because everyone knows it already.
But if you have a recent stat from a credible source, which says that more than 60% of customers would feel better served by video calls with contact centre agents, then you have an insight of real value to any organisation that provides customer service through a contact centre.
Now, I’m sure there are plenty of my tens of readers spluttering and raising very good points about how much it all depends on so many factors, the data universe etc etc. After all, if there’s one thing we all know about stats, it’s that context is everything.
That’s all very well, but judging by the way stats are paraded before me under the guise of briefs, we all seem to have forgotten some of the basic principles of statistics. And, there’s that lovely Churchill quote about marketers using statistics rather as a drunk uses a lamp post: for support, rather than illumination (he didn’t say marketers, but the point is well made).
Most importantly, though, your audience will only glance at your stats unless you really have something fresh, relevant and valuable to say to them. It pays to pick out only those figures that actually convey genuine meaning, otherwise they get lost and you’ve wasted your investment in research.
So I reckon my three-rule formula for statistical clarity is just as valid as any other, and it’s certainly a good place to start. It’s like an HR person flitting through CVs, and chucking out anyone without at least two years of relevant experience. You apply the rule, eliminate the useless data, and then think with discipline and clarity about what remains.
Do this, and you’ll improve click-throughs and shares by at least 23%*.
*Source: Stuart Constable estimate, August 2016