Back in my radio days, sales folks were eager to share data about the radio station’s listening audience with prospective advertisers. That’s what advertisers pay for – access to that audience.
Suppose the prospect was a contractor. Here’s how the sales rep might have described the station’s core audience.
Women, ages 25-49. 40 percent have a household income of more than $100,000. 50 percent have at least one child. 45 percent have college degrees. 80 percent live or work within your service area. 65 percent own a home. The audience spends an average of $15,000 per year on home improvements.
I’m making up these numbers and there’s a lot more data available, but you get the picture. The general idea was to prove that the advertiser would be spending money to reach a very desirable audience.
But the most successful salespeople, instead of rattling off a bunch of numbers, told the story of the radio station’s stereotypical listener. For example:
Meet Jessica. She’s a professional, college-educated mom who juggles work and family. After spending a full day crunching numbers for an accounting firm, she climbs into her Lexus SUV and picks up her 3-year-old son from daycare. She races home to make dinner in her recently updated kitchen before taking her 8-year-old daughter to dance class.
During dance class, Jessica pulls out her iPhone, gets caught up on the news of the day and likes a few Facebook posts. When they get home, it’s time for baths and homework. Once the kids are in bed, Jessica will relax with a book or watch an hour of TV. Although life is chaotic, she manages to make time for herself, whether that means meeting girlfriends for drinks or going away for a long weekend.
What tells you more about that radio station’s audience – the data or the story?
This Is Not a Knock on Data
I’m a big believer in data, although I think some people make a big mistake by relying solely on data and ignoring what their brain and heart tell them. There needs to be the right balance of information, sound reasoning and gut instinct.
That said, data that’s relevant and meaningful has tremendous business value. It gives validity and specificity to claims. It proves or disproves hypotheses and assumptions. It allows you to draw conclusions, make better decisions, justify investments and operate more efficiently.
My problem is with how data is typically presented. Numbers, percentages, statistics, charts, graphs, and on and on and on. It’s enough to make your head explode – if the information doesn’t just go in one ear and out the other.
Not Everyone Is Influenced by Data, but Everyone Loves a Good Story
Data alone can be very compelling and persuasive. No doubt about it.
But a carefully crafted story that seamlessly weaves in key data points where appropriate is more compelling and more persuasive. It provides context. It’s authentic. Believable. Real. Emotional. Memorable.
All these things add impact to your data and strengthen your case.
Instead of just telling me that your product improves productivity by 30 percent, tell me the story of how specifically your product is used, how productivity is improved, and the impact of that boost in productivity.
Most Human Communication Involves Sharing Stories
Stories make it easier for the human brain to absorb and process information. It helps us remember and understand simple facts and complex concepts. That’s why we tell our kids stories long before they know what the words mean. It gets the gears in their brain turning.
Adults are no different. Instead of overloading people with data, engage them with an authentic story.
I remember that Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall and had a hell of a fall. It was so bad that a bunch of people couldn’t fix him. The author didn’t feel the need to talk about Humpty falling eight feet to the ground and sustaining cracks to 85 percent of his body, making it impossible for 50 of the king’s men and horses to put him back together.
By all means, use relevant data to make your case to potential clients, investors, business partners, employees and job applicants. But if you want to make your case and make an emotional connection, tell the story behind your data.