Stop marketing rubbish: how to get your facts straight

editorial, journalism, statistics
Aug 30, 2018
Content Copywriting

Republishing dodgy data can badly damage your credibility. So, why do so many brands do it in their content marketing?

When I was a young reporter, a very wise and experienced sub-editor once questioned me on something I’d written. I can’t remember what it was, specifically, but I remember the lesson.

“We deal in facts, Mr Hatch, and facts only. Nothing could be simpler.”

But dealing in facts and facts only has become increasingly difficult. The internet is swirling with rubbish and rubbery statistics. Dodgy data is absolutely rife. And, unfortunately, the marketing sector seems to be a particular culprit. 

Have you ever tried to verify where some of the popularly circulated marketing statistics come from? You click on the link provided with the data point and it takes you to another article by another marketing firm. You click on their link and it takes you to… yet another marketing agency’s article. Where’s the actual source? You may never find it. It may not even exist.

marketing, pr, verifying data

Sometimes you can find the original research, but it’s absolute bunkum. My favourite example of this is the oft-quoted idea that a minute of video is worth 1.8 million words.  Google it — it’s everywhere. It’s based on a 2014 report by Forrester. How’d they arrive at this startling figure?

You’ll never believe it.

Take the old expression “a picture paints a thousand words”, then multiply it by the standard 30 frames a second that flicker up in a video, then multiply that by the 60 seconds in a minute.

1000 x 30 x 60 = 1.8 million.

It’s absolute hooey. Yet a quick Google search reveals more than four million results for “a minute of video is worth 1.8 million words”.

Now that you know this “fact” is absolute codswallop, suddenly anyone who quotes it looks rather silly. At best. At worst, repeating this kind of unfounded nonsense makes anyone using it look so terrible at due diligence and research that it will actively turn away potential customers.

FURTHER READING: How to build your audience by adding editorial value

So, how do you avoid becoming a statistic and spreading dodgy data? Here are some tips I’ve picked up over almost twenty years in journalism:

1.    Only use data from trusted sources

Use credible reports from organisations with a good reputation, like the Content Marketing Institute’s annual Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends Report.

These organisations have spent time and resources creating quality data sets using reputable methods, because their reputation depends on doing the job properly. You can leverage their good reputation for your own brand by using these quality sources.

2.    Make sure you’ve found the source

Make sure you’ve found the original source of the statistic or “fact” you want to use.

Don’t assume that because you’ve found it quoted in a blog post or some other piece of content from a source you trust, that the information is good. Verify the information with your own eyes.

If you can’t find or can’t arrange access to the original research, don’t use it.

3.    Check the methodology used

Don’t just find the data; interrogate it. Read the study the information is from and understand the methodology used. There are many questions you should ask when looking deeply into a body of research, including:

4.    Know who paid for the research

This is a real Journalism 101 thing, but always make sure you know who commissioned and paid for any research.

Journalists get thousands of press releases a year with headlines like “Potatoes linked to cancer cure” only to discover, buried in some very fine print at the back of a 200-page report, the study was conducted by the potato marketing board.

That doesn’t mean the research is wrong, but it does mean you have to be wary and take a few precautions. Certainly, always mention the source of the information if you’re going to quote it.

Marketing, pr, journalism, data verification

5.    Make sure the data has been interpreted correctly

If you’ve seen a statistic quoted somewhere and you really like it and want to use it, it’s not enough just to find the original source and locate the data point: you need to make sure the data has been interpreted correctly.

People make mistakes. It’s easy to interpret data incorrectly. It’s also easy to use statistics and research findings in a way that deliberately mislead people. Check and double-check that the data has been interpreted correctly. What’s the best way to do that? Talk to the researchers who conducted the original study. 

FURTHER READING: 7 editorial workflow tips from traditional publishing


6.    What are other experts saying about the research?

Try to reduce, if not remove completely, the impact of “spin”. It’s normal for the companies, analysts, researchers, and so on behind a study to push a particular line – to provide you with a particular “take-out message”. But is that the whole truth? What else does the data say?

The simplest way to double-check you’re not being played for a fool or taken for a ride is to ask another expert in the field to run their eyes over the data.

Journalists do this all the time as part of their due diligence. We interview well-placed people to get their interpretation and then include it in our reports, as part of the “balance” journalism requires. It brings in other viewpoints and allows you to create a more robust report – which is something anyone in content marketing should aim for, too.

Follow these six tips, and you should be able to get your facts straight from now on – and ensure your brand’s credibility remains intact when publishing data.

Whether you need blog posts, white papers, video production or any other kind of content, the team at Lush – The Content Agency in Perth, Western Australia, can help you. We have experienced journalists, trained in handling research correctly, on staff.