Don’t Use Numbers – Use Social Statistics

This is the fifth in a seven-part series that will teach you how to create effective and memorable media messages. 

Five million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease.

Did that number immediately make you think, “Wow?” Did it evoke a specific image of how many people “five million” represents?

If you’re like most people, probably not.

Instead, imagine you are giving an interview to a Boston radio station and citing the statistic this way:

“Fenway Park seats 37,000 people. It would take 135 Fenway Parks packed with people to hold every American with Alzheimer’s disease. That’s five million people in total. Now, think about the family members caring for that patient. It would take almost 600 Fenway parks, packed with people, to hold all the patients and family members affected by Alzheimer’s disease.”

For most people, that statistic is more powerful, because it evokes a specific image and produces that desired “wow” response.

Social statistics are intended to do exactly that – to take raw, unfeeling numbers and shape them into something that elicits a powerful reaction.

Social statistics can take many forms. Here are a few examples:

  • DISTANCE: Instead of saying New Yorkers use more than one million plastic bags each day, say, “If we laid the number of plastic bags New Yorkers use every day side-by-side, they would stretch from New York to Beijing – and back.”
  • COST: Instead of saying a certain tax cut would save American taxpayers $100 billion this year, say the average family of four would receive $1,300 in tax relief (dividing numbers into the smallest sum – per person or per family – often has more impact than an overall number).
  • LAND AREA: Instead of saying a new protected area in the Brazilian rainforest would comprise 4,700 square miles, say it’s about the size of Los Angeles.

For each of your messages, think of two pieces of raw data that support each point. Then turn those raw numbers into the social statistics that bring your data to life.

In Part Six of this series, you will learn how to develop sizzling sound bites.