Data Delivers Credibility

by : Robert F. Abbott

Over the past couple of days I've been setting up visitor counters, so people in another organization can accurately count the number of people who visit their event.

They got the idea (and the counters) from an association I belong to, and they, too, are learning how data delivers credibility.

I'm always impressed by how much respect I get when speaking or writing with specific, solid numbers. For example, when I talk about the number of visitors who came through the gates of my association's event on a specific night, I don't talk about "a lot" or "a few" or "more than the night before."

Instead, I can say something like, "2,348 visitors came through last night, compared to 1,852 the evening before." That specificity makes a difference when it comes to credibility, and if I propose a certain course of action based on those numbers, I'm likely to get the support I need from other members of the board.

Data, you see, represents very specific information, and often, the more specific you can be, the more credibility you have.

Similarly, direct marketing gurus encourage their clients to use specific numbers in headlines, rather than generalizations. That's why effective direct mail, and now online advertising, uses claims like "Learn how one sales rep earned $2,216.78 last week..." rather than "Learn how one sales rep earned more than $2,000 last week..."

By being specific, the headline writer converts a boast ("more than $2,000") into a conceivably credible claim. What's implied is that it must be true or the writer wouldn't use that specific figure.

You'll find other professionals get credibility in the same way. For example, lawyers get it by citing precedents. Rather than talk to a judge in generalities, good lawyers cite previous case law and decisions by other judges.

You also know the clergy gain credibility by citing passages of scripture, along with the chapter and verse numbers. And, how about the medical profession? For example, physicians and others don't speak of "heart attacks;" instead they speak of different kinds of heart disease and conditions. By being specific they gain credibility, credibility that sets them apart from lay people.

The concept works for just about anyone, in any profession or occupation. Suppose, for example, you're a sales manager attending a budget meeting, and the general manager wants you to increase your sales by 15% next year, far more than you're likely to achieve. To argue persuasively that the target should be lowered, you might explain that the economy of your city is only expected to grow 2% next year, that your main competitor recently cut prices by an average of 4.5%, and that your company's production will be just 5% greater next year. Now, you've got ammunition when you argue for a lower sales target.

In summary: Data, in the form of specific numbers or references, adds credibility to messages. It's a technique used by many professionals, including the clergy, physicians, and sales people.