Marketing Statistics: The Dangers - @ModernB2B
Marketing Statistics: The Dangers of Using Juicy 3rd Party Research

The internet, social media and content marketing mean B2B marketing statistics are everywhere. Research by 3M showed that ‘Humans can process visuals 60,000 times faster than text‘*, so adding visuals with a juicy statistic is very appealing to illustrate a point. When we find some research or source quoting a statistic that perfectly frames our point, content or even proposition it adds credibility, kudos and authority.

The famous quote by comedian Vic Reeves in a Guinness advert back in 1997 said that ‘88.2% of statistics are made up on the spot’. Surely this should be a warning to any would-be statistic researcher that thorough research is a must.

However statistics that seem to fit life or our beliefs can quickly become fact in our brains. The 3M research statistic from the first paragraph is a prime example. It’s well used and serves marketers well, but it in fact, completely fictional. Even 3M can’t find the research that they apparently carried out (but here’s similar information from MIT).

Now, thanks to the internet and social media, marketing statistics can easily be researched, picked up by anyone and used with such abandon that they can easily become truth.

So just because you’ve found some great marketing statistics, it’s worth taking the time to double-check the sources and their credibility. Here are our tips to make sure the stats you use to bolster your argument don’t make you look like a bumbling fool.

[Tweet “Make sure your marketing stats don’t make you look like a bumbling fool.”]

Are the statistics relevant?

Due to the speed at which information is shared, statistics can be easily and quickly altered in a similar fashion to Chinese whispers. There’s the added complication that the original statistic relates to a completely different and unrelated niche or sector.

For example, in 2013, IBM allegedly quoted that ‘Poor data can cost businesses 20%–35% of their operating revenue’. This is a hugely compelling fact from what seems to be a reputable source. The pairing of the quote with one the largest companies in the world has made this quote synonymous with the arguments for tackling and embracing the challenge of Big Data.

Note, that I said ‘allegedly’. When you do a search trying to identify the quote, IBM is nowhere to be seen. Our favourite search engine is very good at tying direct quotes with the original sources, in our experience. It’s quoted a lot of places in relation to Big Data including here and here. The latter being noted as the originating source (ahem, it’s not true). The former is a source of statistics often used by marketers for the compilation of infographics stats.

This quote in fact originated from a book by Larry English on Business Systems in 2009 (here’s the chapter that references the quote). The statistics are regarding information scrap and rework when broken information systems are implemented, such as CRMs or ERPs and most examples cited dated back into the early to mid-2000s, long before Big Data was born.

Is the research valid?

Often surveys of a target audience are conducted across a range of industries, company sizes and job titles. Rarely is any context given as to who answered a particular question, making it difficult to understand what action should be taken or how a particular group feels.

I recently saw a statistic by Pardot, the marketing automation software vendors now owned by Salesforce, in a whitepaper entitled ‘State of Demand Generation 2013 whitepaper’. The stat was:

70% of B2B buyers would like whitepaper’s to be less than 5 pages

This stat was used widely on social media and picked up by B2B marketing blogs to suggest that B2B buyers were too busy to consume lengthy whitepaper content and that shorter content was better. Before a judgment can be made, we should consider the complete research.

When they were asked about their customer reading habits the respondents suggested the following:

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The survey sampled 400 B2B buyers and provided some interesting insights into their behaviour. However, when you looked more carefully at the sample…

  • 53% of the buyers interviewed were from small companies (10-1,000 employees)
  • 22% of buyers interviewed were from a mid-market company
  • 25% work for an enterprise company

What would have been more interesting is the correlation between these 3 groups:

  • Do all small and mid-cap buyers feel that content should less than 5 pages?
  • Do all enterprise buyers feel that the content should be as long as required?

This is important to people marketing to the SMEs and enterprises, but without the context should we all be creating shorter whitepaper content? Maybe, maybe not.

Who did the research?

It is also worth considering the credibility of the company carrying out the research and also why they were conducting it in the first place.

In some cases, research is carried out by a company wishing to sell a product and to prove a point. So just how objective is that research?

At worst the research or statistic you’re using in your infographics or marketing campaigns could be one your competitor commissioned. [Tweet “With stats flying around left, right and centre, it’s always best to double-check the sources before you use them”]

In summary, research statistics pack a powerful punch, but they can also have a sting in their tail. Watch out for the source and the credibility of the originator. More importantly, remember that 88.2% of statistics are made up on the spot.

 

Notes:

*Whilst 3M can’t find the study, they carried out a similar study in June 1986 on Presentation and the Role of Visual that showed that presentations using visual aids were found to be 43% more persuasive than unaided presentations.

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