I recently wrote a blog article about making your website content voice search-friendly. While researching that article, I came across the claim that half of all searches will be voice-based by 2020.
This statistic is attributed to Comscore and referenced in hundreds of articles across the vast world wide web. But I couldn’t find any articles that linked back to a Comscore study.
I did find an article that said the statistic was based on a forecast from 2014 that said at least 50 percent of all searches would be “either through images or speech” within five years.
This isn’t the same as saying half of all searches will be voice-based by 2020. Not even close.
The original forecast also happens to be five years old, but it’s still being used today as if it’s hot off the presses because voice search is starting to take off.
I’m not sure how Comscore got dragged into this mess, but I’m guessing this particular data point gained and maintained traction because it’s attached to a reputable research brand.
As you develop marketing content, it can be tempting to load up on statistics that reinforce the need for your product or service and support the point your trying to make. The abundance of available “data” makes it even more tempting.
But people are inherently skeptical, especially those who are still getting to know you and your brand.
Just like it doesn’t take much effort for you to find statistics that support your case, it doesn’t take much effort for your audience to research those statistics and determine whether your claims are a crock.
The questionable use of questionable statistics can create questions about your brand. Once trust in your brand has been shaken, it’s difficult to reestablish.
Here are a few ways to make sure the statistics you share in your marketing content support your message without damaging your brand.
The Closer You Get to the Source of the Data, the Better
Don’t settle for statistics in an article that simply links back to the same statistics in another article. This “it’s on the internet so it must be true” approach is both lazy and risky.
Find the source of the data.
In many cases, a report from the company that conducted the research is publicly available. In other cases, a summary of a research report is included in a press release or blog article. The data in the summary might be enough depending on what you’re trying to accomplish.
If not, you might have to fill out a form to get the full report. Depending on the research organization, you might have to pay to see the report.
I’ve never paid for a research report, for myself or on behalf of a client, but I’ve filled out many forms for access or a download.
So I start getting emails from those organizations. Big deal. I can always unsubscribe. It’s worth it to get a firsthand look at the data.
If you can’t access the actual research, it becomes a judgement call. If I haven’t seen research myself, I won’t use it unless the research has been referenced by a well-known, reputable publisher.
Judge publishers on quality, not quantity. It’s easy to find a bunch of publishers making the same claim on the internet. That doesn’t make the claim true.
Research the Research
Once you’ve gotten as close as possible to the source of the research, do a little digging.
Who conducted the research? Is it possible the research is biased?
In other words, did a company selling frozen dinners conduct their own research on the nutritional value of frozen dinners, or did they partner with an impartial organization that conducted the research independently?
When was the research conducted?
If the research is more than a year or two old, is it possible the data is no longer accurate? If the research was conducted today, is there a good chance the findings would be different? If you’re looking at the 2016 version of the report, is a 2018 version available? Always look for recent data, especially when it involves subject matter that’s quickly evolving or recently changed.
Who was surveyed?
If you’re selling security software and your ideal client is a small business owner, it would be misleading to share statistics from surveys involving IT managers from large enterprises. The data should be based on information from people who are similar to your target audience in terms of knowledge and need. Otherwise, the data is irrelevant.
When you research the research, you don’t just reduce the risk of sharing questionable data. You gain context that can be presented within your marketing content to strengthen your claims and make your content more relevant and believable.
Cite Your Sources
If your marketing content is online, include links. If it’s in print, add footnotes for your sources.
Citing sources shows accountability, transparency, and credibility. It makes you more believable and trustworthy. This is Journalism 101.
The more specific the claim, the greater the need to cite the source.
For example, if you say adoption of cloud services is increasing, the statement is so general that it doesn’t necessarily require a source citation.
If you say cloud adoption among businesses with fewer than 100 employees increased 23 percent in 2018, cite the source of your data.
This article shouldn’t discourage you from using hard data in your marketing content. It should encourage you to use hard data responsibly.
The headline is somewhat tongue in cheek, but there’s truth to it. People make stuff up to sell stuff and win arguments. That includes waving a magic wand and creating phony statistics.
Everyone knows statistics can be twisted, manipulated, and flat out made up. As a wise man once said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics.”
You can build trust and credibility, overcome skepticism, and bring prospects closer to a sale by vetting your research and presenting it clearly and transparently.
Get as close as you can to the source of the data to verify its authenticity. Research the research to ensure it’s unbiased, recent, and relevant. Cite your sources to show your audience that you didn’t just make this stuff up.
Yes, this involves more legwork. But the legwork you put in today could very well prevent a client or prospect from calling BS and losing trust in your brand tomorrow.