The “WOW!” Number

A recent Harvard Business Review Blog asked, “What Surprising Number Will Change Your Business?”

Numbers are the universal language of business. We use them to win approval for product introductions, to attract investors for our startup ideas, to make the case for expanding into new markets or entering new categories. In other words, numbers, when used well, tell a compelling story.

Marketing and advertising is about big ideas. But it is also very much about numbers: budgets, ratings, impressions, ROI. Which brings us to the search for the “Wow!” Number, and why one piece of data may be worth a thousand words.

Here are a few such numbers.

  • 70% of teens who abuse prescription drugs get them from home.
  • 80% of women plan to exclusively breastfeed; only 20% actually do.
  • Many are in front of whiteboards 4 hours a day, but only use them for 4 minutes.
  • 80% of people age 45+ consider changing careers; only 6% actually do.

Why do these numbers tell a story? Because they’re simple and easy to understand. Because they’re human and easily relatable. Because they surprise us, and/or capture the gap between intentions and actions.

And how do you get to such numbers? Juxtapose: “Put related numbers together to create new information.” Try different contexts: “What’s the social angle? The green angle? Put it in terms of time, or length, or volume.” Turn them over: “2% one way might not be as interesting as 98% the other way.”

However you choose to rethink your approach to numbers, it’s an important way to address a huge missed opportunity. Business isn’t just a battle of products and services. It’s a battle of ideas about priorities, opportunities, values, and value. Ultimately, those competing ideas get reduced to competing numbers. So, if you can arrive at numbers that matter, you’ve got a better chance at winning the battle of ideas.

We have told you some surprising numbers about mail in the last few months:

More than 70% of Gen Yers (born 1977-1994) and Gen Xers (born 1965-1976) sort their mail immediately

76% of internet users were directly influenced to buy an item or service thanks to direct mail

78% of email recipients do not open the message, so that means that 94.1% of email recipients are not clicking through to landing page

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