Maximising impact with numbers
It’s an old joke that 78% of all statistics are made up. In fact, statistical analyses can be a powerful marketing tool — as long as you understand and substantiate your figures. We’ve got five recommendations to help you out.
Ensure just cause
Analysing the right sample group means you can prove pretty much anything you want — children with bigger feet are better spellers; if you sleep with your shoes on you are more likely to wake up with a headache; and you are twice as likely to choke on a cherry stone if you read a weekend newspaper. Sometimes these statements have credible explanations — children with bigger feet could well be older than their classmates, and if you fall asleep with your shoes on you probably had one too many. However, the relationship between cherry stones and newspapers is a prime example of relationship and causality being abused — there could be a common cause, but it’s more likely that it’s pure chance.
Keep it legal, decent and honest
It’s easy to understand how beguiling statistics can be to an enthusiastic marketing team, ‘8 out of 10 cats prefer Whiskas’ remains one of the nation’s best remembered marketing slogans. It was a clear, bold, memorable marketing statement. Unfortunately it wasn’t true, and fell foul of tighter advertising regulations. Its replacement ‘8 out of 10 owners who expressed a preference said that their cats preferred Whiskas’ didn’t have the same impact and was soon dropped.
Another pitfall is the difference between percentages and percentage points. Consistently confused in the media, the difference between the two is significant. To use a topical example: in December 2008, UK interest rates fell from 3% to 2%. In much of the media this was referred to as a drop of 1%, but this is wrong; it’s actually a drop of 1 percentage point. If it were a 1% drop then the new rate of interest would be 2.97%—99% of 3%. With interest rates readers can usually work out what was meant from the context, but elsewhere it’s crucial for credibility to express it correctly.
Don’t underestimate your audience
Recently UK TV screens have been filled with adverts from supermarkets battling for cash-strapped consumers. Asda (part of Walmart) has chosen to quote analysis of its prices by a third party; Tesco has responded with its own calculations based on 200,000 actual customers. Unsurprisingly, each method favours the particular advertiser. Are viewers fooled? The public is increasingly sceptical of marketing claims with a quasi-statistical basis. But, far from being a problem, this trend in public consciousness can work to your advantage. Publishing data that is clearly substantiated, stating the sample size and the method of data collection, increases the credibility of the product.
Communicate your results effectively
Using graphs and charts is a great way to get your results across clearly and powerfully. They inject colour into an article, case study, or paper, breaking up the text, bringing it to life and capturing the reader’s interest. However, it’s just as important for these graphics to be accurate and not misleading. Show the units of measurement, cite sources and while a little creativity can emphasis your point, don’t overdo it.
If you want to use statistics to maximise your marketing impact, talk to us. We’re 100% keen to help!
For an excellent expose of the abuse of statistics in marketing and how they did it, read Darrel Huff’s How to lie with statistics.