Big Numbers – Little Impact

Let’s say you’re asked to write a public service announcement promoting diabetes education. You might start out by writing something like this: “Do you know that more than 29 million people in the United States suffer from diabetes?”

However, after reading this, your reader might ask, “what does this have to do with me? I can’t relate to 29 million of anything”

What is it about these large numbers? I believe that using large numbers to make a point can easily overwhelm people’s senses. Here’s an example of how large numbers can be overwhelming.

The Pew Internet Research Project (www.pewinternet.org) collected data about social networking and online usage. They found that 71 percent of online adults use Facebook, 17 percent use Instagram, 21 percent use Pinterest, and 22 percent use LinkedIn. Facebook alone has about 191 million users in the United States.

If you’re writing a business, be careful not to get carried away by using big numbers to build your case to start a business. Applying large numbers (demographic or economic) to help you understand your local market might not portray an accurate picture. For example, do 71 percent of adults in your geographic area use Facebook? Probably not.

Back to the public service announcement. How would you relate to the question,

“Do you have a friend or family member who has diabetes?” Most likely, you would say “yes, I can relate to that”. This is an effective way to connect with your audience.

What can you do to avoid using large numbers when creating content (online or print) to promote your business? Here two of the most important things to keep in mind:

  • Think small – If you are starting a business that serves local or regional customers, get data from local business organizations (Chambers of Commerce, economic development associations, etc.). Use the data to get an understanding of the unique demographic characteristics of your market.
  • Make it personal by telling a story – talk directly to your audience using common words and phrases to draw them in. Most people can relate to a short story. The diabetes example above can be expanded into a story about how someone prevented himself or herself from becoming diabetic.

Beware of getting lured into the world of big numbers.