Your Customers DO Care about the Numbers
Coincidentally in the same week that Versta Research published its winter newsletter on Turning Data into Stories: A How-To Guide, last week’s AMA event in Chicago was a market research panel focused on telling stories with data. The presentations were solid, with lots of helpful ideas. But there was also a misguided idea working its way through the room, worthy of spirited debate, if only we had more time. It is the idea, as one panelist put it, that “clients don’t care about numbers.”
Of course his point was that too often researchers build reports and presentations from reams of data, showing table after table of numbers, and chart after chart of detail. They fall short when it comes to interpreting the data, saying what it means, and how it should be used. Ultimately managers and clients care about what the numbers mean and what they can do with them. We agree 100%.
But in our experience, clients also care a great deal about numbers. They nearly always want to know how many, how much, and how big. They want things quantified, and even better, they want numbers visualized in charts or in other compelling ways. Indeed, the finance people love numbers; the marketing people love numbers; the PR people love numbers.
What customers don’t love, at least not so much, is data. The data has to be there and it has to be solid, but it needs to be turned into a story. The key is always to provide meaningful numbers, and to avoid diluting the story with data that overwhelms.
Here are three quick recommendations (described more fully in our article on this topic):
1. Carefully review how the data are calculated. It is important to simply determine the base against which percentages are calculated because the specific numbers you share need to tie directly to the story you want to tell.
2. Find the simplest numbers, and cut everything else. Think ahead in terms of which data points will make it into the CEO’s rationale for a strategy, or into a press release highlighting the research findings.
3. Write about what the numbers point to. Nearly every number in a report should point to something that real people do in the real world. Write about that, not about the numbers themselves.
We also recommend being a part of the conversation at events and professional meetings, like the event we helped organize for the American Marketing Association. Our presentations last week brought together researchers from Allstate, Zurich Insurance, Tribune Company, the American Dental Association, Rockwell Automation, and market researchers from some of the world’s largest MR companies. We anticipated a small gathering of about 20 AMA members. Fifty four showed up. Not bad, as far as numbers go!
—Joe Hopper, Ph.D.