When people are faced with decisions—whether it’s a life-changing choice, such as which cancer surgeon to choose, or something more mundane, such as figuring out which pizza place to visit for lunch—many need validation that they are making the right choice. If they’re thinking about spending money, they might check out reviews or ratings online. What does choosing the best pizza joint have in common with choosing a doctor? They’re both decisions made based on data.
Hill+Knowlton Strategies’ recently released study, “The Transformation of Influence,” confirms that you can’t come between Americans and their data. Eighty-five percent of the 4,400 Americans surveyed say data plays an important role in helping them justify major decisions, and 88 percent say they find claims based on data more persuasive than other claims. The conclusion is simple: When someone is wrestling internally with the correct next step, they turn to facts and figures to help them make the best choice.
Here’s the interesting thing: Though the vast majority of people surveyed find data important in making everyday decisions, most of them don’t fully understand it. Sixty-four percent of people are not comfortable with data, and only 21 percent of those surveyed are confident in their ability to work with bar charts and other simple presentations of data.
Yet, the report revealed that comfort with data is more complex than merely dividing the world between the data-literate and the data-illiterate. There are actually four types of people, in order of most to least comfortable with data: data influencers, data-savvy, data literate and those who are outright uncomfortable with data. Influencers are the smallest group, just six percent of the general public, while one in five Americans is data-savvy.
“This data literacy gap will likely lead a small portion of the public to become disproportionately powerful from data influence,” the report says.
Given the data literacy gap, how do companies using statistics to make a point know that their audience is getting the message? Marketers, more than anyone, need to understand the impact of the data gap on the way they share information with audiences.
“For those trying to reach the general public, it’s important not to present data in such a complex manner that those who are uncomfortable with numbers miss what you’re trying to convey,” explains Molly O’Neill, Executive Vice President of U.S. MarComms Practice at H+K. “Once the information becomes confusing, you’ve lost the power to persuade. Make the argument concise and easily translatable.”
On the other hand, if your audience is data-savvy, cater your messaging accordingly. While this audience likes data a lot and tends to use it more than those who don’t feel comfortable with it, they are also more likely to be critical and skeptical of your message. “Gain the trust of the data-savvy by sharing original insights, presenting data in surprising visual ways, and making the content very relevant to their specific needs and interests,” suggests O’Neill.
Remember: People trust data and rely on it to inform their decisions, but they don’t necessarily understand it. Seek out the data that tells a story about what your company or organization does, and present that data both accurately and in a way that your key audience is likely to understand.