In her presentation on lead nurturing at CMWorld 2014, Ardath Albee, CEO of Marketing Interactions, Inc., and author of “Digital Relevance,” presented a statistic that got my attention:
"Fewer than 30% of buyers think vendor content is trustworthy."
It’s a disappointing statistic, but it makes sense. After all, vendors produce and distribute content for one main purpose: to get people to buy their products. This purpose holds whether you’re promoting an online degree program, a network security solution, life insurance, or K-cup coffeemakers.
No client has ever asked me to manipulate statistics or lie about a product or service. However, I’ve felt unsaid pressure to reframe statistics to create a more dramatic story about a product. I’ve also felt pressure to sell customers a product from an invalid angle. Fortunately, good clients don’t want to mislead, and I work with good clients. Unfortunately, because of the not-so-good players out there, even good clients struggle to earn their readers' trust.
Statistics Never Lie…Except When They Do: A Tale of Data Backup
"In many cases, the data doesn’t support the story a client wants to tell. What follows is usually a slightly awkward discussion. Sometimes a client will want the designer to use only the facts that make them look good, twist the data, or otherwise get around this snag." –Josh Smith, Graphic Designer, “10 Steps to Designing an Amazing Infographic”
I recently produced blog content for a marketing agency that represented a technology company. The technology company wanted to sell data backup, disaster recovery solutions, and consulting services. They requested blog content explaining why data backup should matter to small businesses.
Let me be clear: Data backup is a worthy product. I found this out the hard way when my Mac hard drive died this past summer. And I'm a sole proprietor - for SMBs and enterprises, it’s even more crucial. I started searching for statistics to include in the blog post.
After some digging, I found one statistic published by a company that sold tape-based data backup: 80 percent of companies without well-conceived data protection and recovery strategies go out of business within two years of a major disaster. The company credited the statistic to the U.S. National Archives. When I started looking for the original source, I found nothing from the National Archives. I did find a fascinating article published by ContinuityCentral.com called, “Business Continuity Statistics: Where Myth Means Fact.”
Here’s What Trustworthy Blog Content Looks Like
ContinuityCentral.com is a content portal owned by U.K.-based Portal Publishing. It’s a news hub for all things business continuity and disaster recovery. It also sells training from the Business Continuity Institute, and it has a landing page in which businesses can provide their information and get connected to business continuity solutions providers. In other words, ContinuityCentral.com is a content hub facilitating the sales of data backup solutions and training.
In the article, two writers - each of whom worked for businesses that sold risk management and business continuity products - listed and debunked 29 statistics related to business continuity. I recognized many of the statistics because, during my search for legitimate data backup stats, I’d seen them again and again on the home pages, product pages, and promotional materials of data backup companies. Here are some examples:
“Eighty percent of companies without well-conceived data protection and recovery strategies go out of business within two years of a major disaster.”
That's the original statistic I was trying to trace back to the National Archives. One of the ContinuityCentral.com authors had searched for the statistic and found no evidence of it on the National Archives website. He emailed the company that had posted the statistic, and the company sent back the title to a journal article. When the author looked for a copy of the journal article, he couldn’t find it.
“A recent study from Gartner, Inc., found that 90 percent of companies that experience data loss go out of business within two years.”
The authors emailed Gartner directly about this statistic. Gartner could find no documentation of it but speculated that it was from a customized report created for a client and unavailable on the Gartner website.
“Seventy percent of companies go out of business after a major data loss.”
A company that sold data retrieval insurance has published this statistic, along with others. However, they provided no information about the source of the statistics, and the authors couldn’t find it in any industry reports.
These writers, and ContinuityCentral.com, had every motive to keep these statistics circulating around. However, they wanted to expose what they called “the 80-percent myth,” which is the oft-quoted statistic that says 80 percent of businesses fold after a significant data loss.
If you operated a business that needed business continuity or risk management consulting, would you rather buy services from these authors - who demonstrated integrity - or from those who distributed fake but far more dramatic stats?
The Sad Truth: Drama Sells
The data backup vendor who’d requested content from me (via the marketing agency) wanted me to use an information security angle to sell data backup. Trust me, it’s both easy and common to scare customers by hyping the invisible gang of cyber criminals who are trying to steal their data.
Data breaches are real, and they can have devastating consequences for businesses and individuals. However, most data loss incidents – the kind that could be mitigated by data backup – don’t happen because of attacks from the outside. According to data from EMC, published by CIO Insight, the top causes of data disruption are hardware failure (53 percent), power outage (39 percent), software failure (38 percent), data corruption (29 percent), and accidental user error (26 percent).
Obviously, these stats don’t add up to 100 percent. I’m guessing that the survey, given to 3,300 IT pros, asked them to check off the most common causes of data disruption in their organizations. However, it’s clear that something’s missing: cyber attacks. They’re not yet among the most common data disruption contributors that businesses face.
It would have been more dramatic for me to sell data backup by telling customers they were vulnerable to scary cyber attacks, but I had a choice between drama and truth, and I chose truth. I wrote something along the lines of, “Although cyber attacks are becoming more common, the main threats to your data still come from within your organization.” I didn’t say anything to the agency. I just submitted the post. The client approved it, and I didn’t hear any negative feedback.
It’s on Us
SMB owners, my data backup client’s potential customers, might not have challenged a “scare you with cyber attacks” approach to marketing data backup. Also, the client might not have pushed back if I’d included stats similar to “the 80 percent myth.” However, even though I want to help companies sell their products, blogging services for small business have an obligation not to manipulate statistics or to provide statistics that are flat-out false.
Businesses on a tight budget often don't use the best judgment when they order their content. Writers who work for bargain basement blogging services for small business have to produce as many blog posts per hour as possible so that they can make a living. Despite great intentions, there are built-in financial disincentives to doing good research. Accordingly, when well-meaning business owners order from these types of services, they put their own integrity at risk.
At CMWorld, Albee said that marketing has to become a valued source of advice. If you own a business, would you go so far as to recommend someone else’s product? If you’re a marketer, do you have the courage to choose integrity over drama? If you’re a blog content writer, do you honor your duty to tell the customer the truth?
If you suspect that your old blog posts could use a little fact-checking, let me proofread, edit, and fact check your posts. For small business owners and professionals, integrity matters.
Image credit: contemplativechristian from Flickr Creative Commons