I recently read an article about Pinterest marketing success stories. People and businesses were honored by Tailwind for achieving „huge“ success on Pinterest. I read that a person increased her following on Pinterest by 72%. And I felt: yawn, that is supposed to be impressive?
And I started to think about why that is so. Why am I not as impressed by marketing numbers as I am supposed to be?
(Note on the side: Some of you may already know it, some will not, I am a mathematician. I actually hold a Ph.D. in applied mathematics. I might just be a little obsessed with numbers)
The truth is a 72% increase in followers is nothing you can pay your rent with. And even an increase of 72% in traffic standing on its own is not an impressive statement at all. It simply does not say much. If you have one visitor per day from Pinterest and then you increase that to 2 visitors, that is already an increase of 100% – but it is not really impressive – or is it?
If you have 100k visitors from Pinterest an increase of 100% would mean you get 200k visitors – and that would be impressive.
So, without knowing where you started, an increase of 100% – is nothing. It is not really a statement at all.
What would be better numbers to evaluate what we are talking about? Would absolute numbers tell us more if percentages are so deceiving? Would an increase of 1000 visits from Pinterest be a more relevant statement? Not really. Again it all depends on where you started out. When you start at somewhere between 1 and 10 – an increase of 1000 visits is huge. When you start with 500k visits – 1000 visits more or less is just a matter of natural variability and nothing impressive.
So, what is my intention with this article?
I want to open your eyes to how deceiving numbers can be!
Even though numbers seemingly can only be honest facts (or plain lies) there still is a lot of potential to deceive the reader. When we were still running our startup exploreB2B, we were at first impressed by all those shiny numbers we read about on TechCrunch and other huge outlets. Until we figured out how meaningless they really were. Sure doubling your user numbers sounds great, increase in traffic is great. But when you start thinking about the numbers you realize you can come up with the same bullsxxt facts that sound huge and mean nothing.
But the problem is, that they work. In the startup sphere, those huge outlets are explicitly looking for those numbers – because readers can be so easily deceived. And we were told explicitly, we should not be so honest. I am sure we could have compiled some impressive percentages or shiny numbers, that would not have said a thing.
The problem with these numbers is not that they are lies. Usually, they are not. But they are chosen for a single purpose: to sound impressive.
And it is up to you, to identify what these numbers can really tell and what they are not saying at all.
The biggest problem is when you deceive yourself
The problem gets even bigger when you fall for these numbers in your own marketing process.
Deceiving numbers are not only a „problem“ in articles that you read. The same goes for your own marketing and monitoring. You need to question what people say as much as you need to question your own monitoring and the numbers you are watching.
As much as those bragging numbers in marketing articles can be intimidating: if you deceive yourself with your marketing numbers in your measuring and monitoring that is even worse and you are up for a rude awakening.
Numbers sound as if someone is being totally honest. But in truth, the numbers are chosen so that they sound good. That does not necessarily mean they describe the best and most successful marketing strategy.
In your marketing you should not be looking for impressing numbers, you should be looking for honest facts!
What should you be looking for to evaluate the numbers?
Try to put the numbers into perspective. A number of 120k repins sounds impressive, but the first question now is: in what time? In a month, a year – that is a huge difference!
If the number is about an increase (or drop), check what the base number is: A drop in 1000 visits per day sounds a lot – but if your start at 100k visits it’s not much. If you start at 1k it can mean the utter failure of a business.
The same applies if we are talking about the portion of traffic coming from a social network. 80% traffic from Pinterest sounds great. But to evaluate if that is something you should consider, you should ask how much traffic they are getting in the first place. 80% of 5 visits is 4 clicks. Is that the kind of traffic you would go after?
Question if the number tells anything of importance. For example, an increase of 50% in repins sounds great. But honestly, I have seen articles getting thousands of repins and no clicks at all. So if you are looking for traffic, repins may simply not be the best metric you should monitor. An example for this is infographics. Great infographics are awesome on Pinterest and get huge numbers of repins. But they totally suck if you are looking for traffic. For the simple reason that infographics already provide all the information – there simply is no reason for pinners to click on them.
The same goes for followers on Pinterest – since Pinterest changed their algorithm to the smart feed, the number of your followers is by far not that important. Many people see huge success from Pinterest without a large following at all.
Final Words on Marketing Numbers
I only used Pinterest to illustrate my points in this article, because a post about Pinterest I recently read inspired me to write it. All these examples and facts apply to all the other networks and marketing strategies.
Plus, I don’t want to question all the mentioned marketing results – that is not my intention. I simply want to open your eyes to the deceiving power of (impressive) numbers – and that you have to put them into perspective to figure out what they really tell you.
Don’t let yourself be fooled into awe and intimidation by carefully chosen marketing numbers.
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