“Proving Your Case With Statistics” by Robert W. Bly

Whenever I am writing copy, I like to gather lots of statistics on my topic.

The great thing about statistics is that you can always use them to support almost any sales point you want to make in your promotion.

In fact, the same statistic can often be interpreted either to make a sales point or its opposite!

For example, the statistic of number of units sold is often cited to prove that a product is popular and therefore must be good.

In the good old days, McDonald’s restaurant signs would proclaim “Over 1 Billion Sold.”

Advertisements for books frequently tell us that the book is a “New York Times best-seller.”

The logic is that because the product is so popular, people think the product is good, and therefore it must be good.

(Of course it is not true: there are many restaurants that make hamburgers better than McDonald’s.)

Ironically, a statistic that says the exact opposite of “this product is a best-seller”—a number showing it does not sell well—can also be used to make the case for superior quality.

Perhaps you have received in the mail a catalog for Harry & David, the mail order gift fruit company selling Royal Riviera Pears.

The copy says, “Not one person in a thousand has ever tasted them.”

It makes the product sound exclusive, special, rare, and desirable.

But what it really means is very few people buy them!

Here’s another example of how to use statistics in your favor.

I was asked to write a brochure for a company that did competitive research for manufacturers.

I asked the client about the competition and where his firm stood in the marketplace.

“That’s a negative,” he said. “There are hundreds of small mom-and-pop operators doing this kind of research out of their homes, but only five real companies—and of those five, we are unfortunately the smallest.”

In the brochure copy, I wrote: “XYZ Research Associates is one of the 5 largest industrial research companies in North America”–turning a potential negative into a bragging point.

Here are a few additional guidelines for using statistics and numbers to make the case that your product or service is superior:

• Write numbers using the largest units of measure … “a quarter of a century” sounds longer than “25 years.”

• Round off to make numbers sound larger … if the client tells me their newsletter has 2,015 subscribers, I talk about the “thousands of satisfied subscribers.”

• Use “negative statistics” … say what the product doesn’t do or have, rather than what it does do or have. For instance, club soda has “no sodium, no artificial flavors, no calories.”

• Prove statistical points with pictures … compare two quantities with a bar chart, or show a price chart illustrating how shares of the stock you recommended went up.

• Say it multiple times … give the persuasive statistic at least three times: in the body copy, in the chart or graph, and in a caption for the chart or graph.

• Make unexpected comparisons to dramatize numbers … a speaker giving a talk on health told his listeners “more people have died from malaria over the past century than are now living in the United States”—much more memorable than just giving a number.


Bob Bly

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