Beware the Statistical Rathole

Using statistics to improve your white papers

Marketing communications copy lives and breathes statistics, the life-blood of persuasion. What if your client doesn’t want anything to do with them?

“I’d like to cite some figures in this paper about adoption rates for this technology,” said the marketing communications writer. “Can we find data on how sales are rising from year to year?”

Seemed like a natural question to pose. If readers see that 15% of the market used turbo-synchronized schmedlapps last year and 20% used it this year, a smart manager would see a trend and make a note of it as something to follow.

“Actually, we don’t have much data on this,” replied the client. “I prefer to keep our copy around this figurative and stay away from specific numbers.”


“As a company, we try not to get tied to individual figures or sets of data.”

HUH? This time, the writer capitalized it.

“Our preference is to point to trends loosely, as in ‘The trend for asynchronous schmedlapps is down and the trend for turbo-synchronized schmedlapps is up.'”

HUH? Capitalized and italicized it.

Then the client uttered the clincher:

Customers are happy to drag sales conversations down statistical ratholes.

Let’s think about that for a moment.

Marketing believes that statistics enrich a white paper

It’s hard to argue against using data to back up the claims you make in your white paper or marketing communications content. After all, most people base their buying decisions on one of three things:

  1. Recommendations from trusted sources
  2. Facts and figures
  3. Brilliant rhetoric that intimidates or inspires them

The writer has little control over #1, and makes a living crafting copy around #2, but really shouldn’t be relied upon to make #3 work (at least not in B2B).

Research and reports are the mainstay of marcomm content, so when a customer says, in effect, “We don’t use those,” it leaves the writer at a disadvantage to produce good copy.

On the other hand…

Sales believes that statistics cripple the white paper

This is a salesperson’s perspective, and salespeople spend lots of time talking to and hearing from customers.

If you as a salesperson know that, upon reading the persuasive content your marketing manager has created, a prospect is simply going to pick it apart, impugn the data source and turn it into a speed bump on the road to a purchase order, you might argue to keep the statistics out, thankyouverymuch.

Some prospects may look at your set of data as a challenge to cite an opposing set, or search for an opposing set if they have that kind of time to kill.

So, as desperately as Sales wants collateral and content from Marketing, they may at times prefer that it be, shall we say

content unencumbered by research

Since Marketing is in business to help start conversations, and not to gum them up, some content may need to go this way.

So marketing managers, grit your teeth and endure the HUH?s from your marketing communications writer (and prepare to utter a few of your own). There will be plenty of other opportunities for you to quote all those analyst reports you’ve subscribed to.

photo credit: Editor B


Author: John White

John White of venTAJA Marketing is a content marketing writer for technology companies. He posts about technology writing from the perspective of the marketing manager. It’s a dirty job, but somebody has to do it. Download his eBook, “10 Questions to Ask When Hiring Your Content Marketing Writer.”