Next time you are in the grocery line, scan the magazine headlines and you will notice a sea of numbers. "101 Secrets to Financial success"; "Six Reasons You Should go to Europe this Spring"; "The Ten Best New Restaurants in Manhattan". Marketers know that numbers are attention grabbers.
Since numbers are not subjective, when attached to a concept they make the idea seem more concrete and somehow more credible. "The Three Pillars of Client Experience" has more weight than "The Pillars of Client Experience". "Eight Steps to a Smooth Transition" has more weight than "Our Transition Process".
We see in financial services an abundant use of numbers in presentations; very often, however, these numbers are not effectively used. We see spread sheets populated with numbers dominating slides when, in most cases, they belong in a leave-behind. We see bar charts and pie charts looking more like eye charts requiring the audience to do way too much work to get the point.
Numbers are effective - very effective - but they have to be used strategically in order to fully leverage their impact. Below are four best practices to make sure you are using numbers effectively to achieve the impact you desire.
1. Context is important. Numbers that appear positive to you may not necessarily appear positive to your audience. On several occasions, I have questioned our clients on why they used a particular number or percentage. Only after they explained the context to me did I understand their rationale for using it. Without context, the number looked quite underwhelming and unimpressive. When it is not possible to provide the context clearly and succinctly, it is sometimes better to eliminate the number altogether.
2. Think through whether you want to use whole numbers or percentages. There is a reason the marketers of trident say "four out of five dentists recommend sugarless gum to their patients who chew gum". Had they said 80% of dentists, we would have been compelled to think about the remaining 20%, and why all those dental professionals are not pro- trident. Four out of five makes me think that there is only one (probably grouchy and disagreeable) dentist who is in the minority.
3. Work with the numbers so that they send the message you want to send. Consider, for example, adding two numbers together to get a larger number. If 80% of your clients are extremely satisfied, and 19% are very satisfied you may want to add the numbers together to read "99% of our clients are either very or extremely satisfied".
4. Do the work for your audience. Cut to the chase when possible and don't assume they will automatically get where you want them to get on their own. When you have a big, impressive number make it a stand out by giving it a 100+ point font size. Use lots of white space and explain the number in your comments rather than distracting from it with superfluous words and data.