Copy Tip 46: Statistics: Lies or Trust Builders?

Have you ever heard the saying “Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics”?

It’s actually famous enough to have an entry in Wikipedia.

As it says in that entry, it’s to do with “the persuasive power of numbers”.

And here’s some more.

This is from when I did Economic Statistics at Monash University — a degree that bored me senseless and I departed from early (I’m happy to say I share the “university dropout” title with many famous marketers and entrepreneurs). It wasn’t all a waste of time!

It’s about how stats can also be manipulated to help make your argument more persuasive … highlighting certain aspects of results that might not necessarily reflect the true position … only partially disclosing what’s going on.

Knowing that stuff about stats, I see lots of examples of how stats are used inappropriately!

For example, many graphs don’t start at the “0” point — and only show a portion of the overall graph — making the result look more dramatic than it really is.

See, look at this graph:

Graph with partial X axis

It looks quite dramatic this way … because the X axis on the left starts at 230, not at zero! Because of this, some results appear 4 times higher on the graph (eg 4th dot across vs 5th dot across is visibly 4 points away on the X axis).

But when you start from the zero point, it’s not so dramatic …

Graph with X axis starting at zero

It’s no longer 4-times the difference at all — to be 4-times different, the 4th dot would stay at the 260 mark, and the 5th dot would have to be WAY DOWN at the 65 mark on the X axis — yet it’s sitting at 230 — only marginally different now.

I see this type of partial-axis graph used EVERY DAY — for example, the Australian Securities Exchange shows a “Market Watch” graph — it only shows the range of movement for that day (here between 3320 and 3360, over a time period from 10am until 4pm), not showing the entire graph. It looks more dramatic this way — that’s not to say it’s untrue of course, but it’s presented in a way that is more dramatic than if they had used the entire graph from the zero point on the left-hand axis.

From this statistical graph, the market might look like it fluctuated a lot during the day (that will all depend on the index on the left) … whereas its overall position only changed a small fraction: finishing up only 18 points for the day to 3345.5 (much less than a 1 per cent change on the total value of the index since the previous trading day).

Here it is:

Market Watch graph example

It’s informative about the day’s activities — but if the entire graph was shown, the small variation since the previous day would be hardly noticeable.

But that’s not really the stats I want to focus on today. You should be aware though that stats can be used in a range of ways, and sometimes more dramatically than they might otherwise appear to be!

It’s a good example though of how stats can be persuasive.

Stats can also be persuasive just because they are statistics!

And that’s especially so if they’re from an official source.

Look at how much news is generated by statistics, and how many activities are affected by stats — where you might live, what your house is worth, what your investments are worth, if you have a job or not … a lot of the answers are based on stats:

  • Markets fluctuate based on the latest economic data: employment and unemployment figures, interest rates, inflation, business confidence indexes, GDP and other figures… almost daily or hourly. Markets can hold their breath on a big announcement — it can instantly affect the value of major public companies.
  • Local news is reported about crime statistics and data (it even affects house values)
  • Road funding in some areas is based on crash statistics and fatalities
  • Sports fans go “nuts” on statistics — whole publications are devoted to performance stats
  • Political parties adjust their marketing based on voting intention data and statistics
  • Businesses can choose locations for new premises based on consumer spending statistics
  • Businesses report statistics in the form of earnings and sales data … attracting investors or extra funding, and comparing themselves to industry benchmarks.

That’s just a few examples of the power of statistics!

And in the same way, statistics can be used in copy to highlight and persuade.

For example, if you’re trying to get the message to prospects that the job market is getting harder and your product or service helps people get jobs — you might “scare” people using statistics about unemployment numbers — and the problem you want them to fear and avoid.

Because you’re using government-published statistics, you’re perceived to be backing up your argument with “official data” that seems to agree with your point of view.

So if it’s “official” … it makes your point more persuasive — and in that way more trustworthy and believable.

Statistics can be convincing because they’re from a seemingly reliable source (like a government agency) — so in that way too they’re less “biased” than what you might say, as you can be perceived as a profit-motivated product/service provider.

People are USED to statistics being part of their daily news and daily lives … so they have a convincing role to play in your copy.

Just be aware of course that stats can be used in various ways! That might help make your point more dramatic — but make sure too that your stats are convincing and believable.

So stats … yes, they can create a perception that’s more dramatic than it otherwise could be … but they certainly can be very powerful trust builders, adding to the persuasive nature of your copy.

Copy Tip 45: Building Trust Via Case Studies

A short post today (short for me … 915 words).

(We farewelled a member of our Brunswick Rotary Club last night — a loooooong night, so today’s a day of brevity.)

Needless to say … it doesn’t matter how many words you use, what’s more important is the value delivered!

Case Studies

In our last tip, I covered a hefty amount on using testimonials.

They’re perfect when you already have that information from clients and their permission to use their testimonial.

Sometimes, when you don’t have that information ready to use — case studies become the substitute player … who comes in off the bench and helps you score a goal or two.

(I’ve got the Aussie Rules football pre-season game between Geelong and Adelaide on in the background … so footy’s on the mind a little!).

Now you can use BOTH testimonials and case studies … but sometimes case studies can have that substitute role while you go about collecting useful customer testimonials.

They build trust because they help persuade customers that your product or service is already working for other businesses. You can show a prospect how it worked for “someone just like them” — meaning they’re more willing to believe you that it can work for them too.

An Example

On a project I finished writing this week for a client (for B2B lead generation), we used case studies within a “tear sheet” marketing piece to highlight successful results the client had in their business.

Case studies fitted in quite well and were appropriate in the style of writing used on the tear sheet (more of a journalism style, more factual than high-energy/sales based).

In this piece, the article included an “interview” with the business’ corporate sales manager (not directly with clients of the business) — so several case studies were used in a sidebar to highlight specific results.

This approach also kept the client’s wishes of keeping their clients a little private — as in this particular market the competition is fierce (telecommunications) and they’re protective of their customer’s privacy (also at this point they don’t have direct testimonials or permission, so that’s keeping them safe too).

So, for example, instead of XYZ Company Pty Ltd, an example construction business located in Tullamarine (a suburb in Melbourne), I could use in the wording: “A Tullamarine-based construction company with 18 mobile phone services …” in my case study.

This way, the copy still shows the locality, the type of business (which readers may relate to) and the number of services (case studies covered results for businesses who had just a few services right through to much higher volume users).


Yes, I think so. Sure, it’s not as specific as a personal testimonial. But it is — especially in tear sheet style marketing — very plausible and an approach that’s been used many times.

Getting Content

This is pretty easy with case studies … you’re simply researching your own files to find examples you want to use.

In this case, the client had a meeting of their sales team with their sales coach/consultant — and simply recorded the session. Once I had that copy, I could extract the relevant details and use them in the tear sheet.

No Results Yet?

If you don’t have your own customer examples to draw on … you can still use case studies!

So long as you’re upfront and transparent about it (credit your source), you could always show a case study you’ve seen elsewhere in the news or online.

If you know of a business or person who has used this particular product or service, you might want to include that as a case study. You could even interview them to confirm their results (even if they’re not your customer) … or get a testimonial/endorsement from them! For example, if you have a specific system for getting clients via classified ads, but haven’t started using it, you might know of a business who successfully uses classified ads in their marketing strategy. That’s a source for a “case study”.

Here’s an example of how I do this …

In my presentations I’ve talked about the power of direct mail — by showing examples of successful and famous campaigns (eg the Gary Halbert Coat of Arms letter — the most mailed letter of all time).

It’s a “case study” example I use from the stage. It’s not my letter, but it does clearly prove and reinforce the value of direct mail.

Now I also show the successful results of my own campaigns for clients in the presentation, and have my own client testimonials — but the example is good additional content within my presentation.

It also has a couple of added benefits: for example, the audience gets to know that “I know my stuff” about the history and background of my subject matter; and my research and background knowledge means they get to discover important examples without taking the time to find them themselves — I’ve found this on their behalf and eliminated the time it takes for them to discover it too.

Important Tip

Just like testimonials, case studies should be used strategically.

The case studies should cover relevant objections, benefits and fears … and relate as much as possible to the ideal prospect/s you are targeting.

They should also include specific details — the more specific, the better.

As like I used in my Testimonial example yesterday, if a client saves $932 per month using your service, that’s better than saying “almost $1,000”.

So there you have it! A short, concise overview of using case studies (even if you have none of your own).

Copy Tip 44: A Surprising Side To Testimonials

Hopefully if you’ve hung around and taken in any of the fundamentals about direct marketing, you’ll know that testimonials are one of the best ways to help add influence to your copy.

It’s nothing new, and you may have heard it before. (But I reckon there’s a fair bit of insight here that may be NEWS to you!)

But — if it is true that so many business owners know about using testimonials — why are testimonials still so lacking from so much copy in marketing and advertising?

It irks me a LOT that they’re missing … I’m sure if I ever find the Bermuda Triangle I’ll find it stuffed to the brim with testimonials!

They should be in your copy, but mostly they’re not! And — when they are — the used in less effective ways than they should be.

Testimonials add third party authenticity to your copy. Having someone else say something about you is much more powerful than you saying it yourself.

That’s powerful enough as a “weapon of mass influence” that later in this series, I’m going to reveal nineteen ways to use testimonials and seven ways to capture them.

Capturing Testimonials

There are lots of ways to capture testimonials … and I’m going to get to them later in the series. But the important thing to make sure you do is actively capture them! Create surveys and feedback forms (in print or online), interview clients, get them on audio and video, record phone calls (with permission of course), save emails and letters … if you only collect 2 per week (and get permission to use them), you’ll have over 100 in a year!

But No-one’s Used My Product/Service!

That’s not a pitfall for testimonials!

Let’s say you sell real estate, but you’re a brand new agent. Can’t get testimonials from sellers or buyers yet?

You can certainly get testimonials about your character … what you’re like as a person … build trust and get people to like you.

And it won’t take very long to start getting some testimonials, even if you haven’t listed a property or sold one! Visit a prospect, and share your advice — they can give you a testimonial that says you revealed three things to them they never knew about buying/selling, and they’d be confident having you as their agent.

That kind of thing.

Within a few weeks you’ll start to collect testimonials … it might take you two months to get a few and start using them — but you’ll already be AHEAD of most of your competitors who don’t know this stuff or keep their testimonials hidden in a drawer!

Or let’s say you have a brand new info product.

Nobody has purchased it yet.

Want testimonials?

Give away your product for free in exchange for honest feedback! You should have a market (after all — MARKET first, PRODUCT second) … find an online forum, offer your product to several people and get their feedback (eg, info marketers would go somewhere like the Warrior Forum to do this).

You’ll have some reciprocity going on — meaning when give somebody the gift of your product in exchange for feedback, they’ll feel obligated to “return the favor” and give you that feedback.

It wont’ take long and again you’ll be able to add new testimonials in to your sales copy as they arrive — on top of the character-based testimonials and other credibility elements you use.

Using Testimonials

Once you have testimonials, don’t keep them hidden! There’s a stack of ways to use them … before prospects meet you, in your marketing and sales material, in store, online, during presentations … in print, on screen, on CD, on DVD, in a book, on a wall, in an album … even LIVE.

A Surprising Bonus

Here’s one bonus I picked up a couple of years ago listening to Mitch Carson.

When a customer gives you a testimonial — especially one you use publicly — and then you use it … they’re more likely to be more loyal as a customer.


Well, it’s about Cialdini’s principles of commitment and consistency. Once a customer has publicly declared (made a commitment) their glowing endorsement, they’re more likely to act in a consistent manner in the future in line with what they’ve said … so they’ll be more loyal to you.

And … let’s say you offer consulting with a 6 month guarantee. If you’re doing face-to-face meetings once a month, and getting and using live testimonials … and you’re getting ringing endorsements of your service … then it’s less likely you’ll get refund requests.

Ineffective Usage

To be most effective, testimonials need to be used “strategically.” Here’s two examples of what I mean:

Meaningful Specifics

The ideal testimonial has specific results that were achieved in a specific time period. Why? They should much more authentic, so they build trust.

If you made $5813.00 in 59 days, you’re better saying that instead of saying “almost $6,000 in two months.”

Answer Objections

If you have a particular objection about your product or service, a testimonial that raises this objection and demonstrates how it was overcome is effective.

Let’s say you’re based in the CBD and customers have a worry that you cannot deliver your product to them outside of suburbia.

Having a client provide a testimonial that says “I was skeptical they’d deliver to my country town. But when I ordered, I was pleasantly surprised that my parcel arrived just one day later without any delay.”

It’s likely other country town prospects might be thinking the same thing … so a testimonial that addresses this objection and shows how you met it positively helps remove that objection from the sale.

“Blind” Sources

Ever seen that kind of testimonial signed off by “A.L., Tx” — or in Australia, “A.L., NSW” — just using initials and the state the person lives in?


Or just made up fairy dust?

Testmonials really need full names and suburbs/towns, and even occupations or company names if possible.

If one of my testimonials was signed off “Travis Fitzpatrick, Focus Health and Fitness” — and had a video of Travis speaking — is that more believable?

Sure is!

Now sometimes with “sensitive” issues, there might be a need to protect the privacy of your customers.

That’s okay. You can mention that when you use your testimonials — and perhaps have the original letters, emails etc on file if needed.

For some subjects, your prospects will understand that kind of sensitivity — after all, if they become a customer, they might want you to protect their name too.

One Last Bonus Tip

With testimonials — if you have occupations from customers that are relevant to prospects, those testimonials should be used as a priority.

Let’s say your appealing to nurses.

And you have several testimonials from nurses on your file.

Use ’em!

If a nurse sees a testimonial from another nurse, he/she might relate to that even more than other testimonials.

Before we even get into depth later in this series … this really should be a great starting point for you!

Copy Tip 43: Graphics For Persuasion

If you only read just 20 seconds of this Copy Tip, I think there’s enough in the opening to convince you of the power of graphics / design in your copy.

It’s about a website credibility study undertaken by Stanford University — published in 2002, but a message worth heeding.

In that study, the participants rated the factors that affected the credibility of websites they viewed.

The top factor?

46.1% considered the “Design Look”
most important for web credibility.

Web Credibility study results

Not the actual content, but its presentation.

And depending on the category of content, that figure was as high as 54.6% (finance category).

Like the researcher said, almost half of web visitors judge a website (their first test) by how it looks.

Now, you may be thinking … this is old stuff!

Yes, this was 2002 and that’s now 7 years ago. Some elements of judgement will have changed (for example I don’t know if 13.8% of people will still think a website is credible because of advertising!). There are other factors that build trust.

This is just one pointer about the importance of graphics and design.

You’ve no doubt heard the saying “a picture tells a thousand words” — or been moved by monuments (such as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. — one I haven’t seen yet in person, but that I’ve read much about) or striking photographs.

They evoke emotions.

Emotions build rapport and connections…

In other words — TRUST.

If you see my photo … you can relate more to me as a person — as people say when they finally meet (if they’ve been communicating via email or telephone) — “now I can put a face to a name.”

It’s important because it builds connections.

And design has that importance too.

Now to me, there’s a difference between “competent design” and “bleeding edge bells and whistles” — it doesn’t mean you have to go all out and splurge until you’re down to your last red cent.

But it does mean that your design and graphics should do at least two things:

  1. Reflect and be a coherant part of your defined positioning; and
  2. Do that based on a competent design foundation.

What do I mean by that?

Let’s say you’re a low cost, bargain based retailer.

Your design won’t look like Apple, Mercedes Benz or Tiffany & Co. — because you’re not trying to convey an affluent message.

You might use brighter, energetic colours to attract attention and your designs will be more functional than any attempt at being high class or stylish.

You would do this so that people can “judge” you in accordance with your chosen positioning.

The words you use,
the copy you use
and the design and presentation
should all be congruent.

But even if you are a low cost, bargain based retailer — it doesn’t mean your presentation should look amateurish or like it was completed by a nine year old with their first foray into layouts.


That’s what I mean by point two above — it should still be competent, even if the message is bargain based.

Competent to me isn’t necessarily about winning awards.

It’s something where the design, graphics and presentation don’t become hurdles to your message.

You don’t stop and think “gee, that looks crap!” — you might not even notice good design, but that’s the whole point from a copywriting point of view. It helps you focus on the message.

Instead, they emphasise key points, attract attention and help engage readers of your message with effective use of graphic formatting and layout, headlines, photos and images, graphs and charts.

Using a Grid

Quite often a good design is based on an “invisible grid”.

That’s where design elements are aligned to an imaginary line or grid on the page. You might not notice it … but it is one way to improve your presentation.

And it’s one of the first things I discovered about design when I started about 20 years ago.

There are lots of ways to create and use grids … but essentially they’re about lining things up to make the presentation look better.

When we get into Design Tips in a couple of weeks, look out for specific examples (it’ll be Copy Tip 58).

You’ve only got to search on Amazon for “grid design” to find a whole heap more resources.

Also on design … one of my blog posts on this site from about a year ago was presenting some interesting slide shows I’d found online about Getting Attention — and I’ll have to dig up an even older blog post from a now retired blog from a few years back where I did a short post on using an invisible grid.

Graphic Persuasion Elements

As I mentioned earlier in this post, printed copy can use graphics in a number of ways, including:

  • formatting and layout
  • headlines, sub-headlines and other large text
  • photos and images
  • graphs, charts and tables
  • call-out boxes and diagrams

Together, these elements can improve your overall design … and add credibility to your message.

On their own, they can be persuasive in terms of helping reinforce your message.

For example, the table above about the results of the web credibility study show you in summary form what I’m saying in my message.

The table reinforces my message and helps increase believability, because you can verify the results for yourself. You may very well believe it more when you see it (especially if you process information visually).

Ever seen an online sales letter showing an image of a check (or cheque if you’re from my neck of the woods!)?

That cheque image is used to help show PROOF of what you’re claiming is true.

More proof … more believability … more trust.

While one blog post can never attempt to cover all of the facets of good graphics and design — I hope this overview has helped convince you that the professional use of graphics and design can add to the persuasive power of your copy!

Good To Be Home

After a week away at coaching and mastermind meetings, it’s good to be back home again.

Whilst I love the networking, catching up with friends and clients, learning and discovering new skills and tips from the discussions and presentations (and as usual I had several big chunks of improvements that will help make things better than ever) … there really isn’t much that competes with the concept of the mastermind group and the chance to get face-to-face with mentors, fellow “students”, speakers and presenters.

Yet after six solid intensive days, it was also good to finally get on the plane and head home.

Flying down from Sydney late last night, we could unfortunately see the bushfire lines in the darkness below … a rather grim reminder of a week of tragic events. But it was impressive to see the generosity of the monetary donations from passengers as the Virgin Blue crew came through the cabin with a collection bag — with all proceeds going to the Red Cross bushfire appeal and passenger donations to be matched dollar-for-dollar by Virgin Blue.

Even the smokey smell on the breeze and the yellow smoke-filtered light is evident today now we’re back at home. My heart goes out to those who have lost friends, family, neighbours and loved ones. I am sure our Rotary Club will be just one tiny fraction of the tens of thousands of volunteers who’ll be focused on different parts of this task for many many months to come.

Like what Jennie Armato commented on my Facebook status (“Dean is quite moved watching the rescue stories of loved ones, and also of Sam the koala in the bushfires“) yesterday …

It’s so great that in such adversity, people are being so amazingly generous and helpful. This is true devastation but out of the ashes rises the phoenix of mateship … and compassion for the poor wildlife too. That koala is adorable.

The Koala is Sam — rescued from Mirboo North bushfires last week after accepting a very welcome drink from a CFA volunteer.

While we were away, I gave a presentation at Mal Emery’s Platinum2Mastermind on Branding and Positioning — and five positioning tools. It was great to get lots of positive feedback afterwards, especially for members who said they’d be following the content of my “2-minute Business Card Workshop” and improve their own cards for their business.

(I’ve gotta say I was happy that my 60 minute presentation ran exactly to schedule — at the 1-minute notice, I literally only had one slide and concept left to present!)

So now we’re home there’s a few follow-up notes to take care of (a great tip from Daryl Grant — put time aside in your schedule after the event to implement), then it’ll be back into client projects, visiting friends, Rotary activities and life at home … lots of projects “on the go” for this year.

And I’m also looking forward to a return to regular publishing of the 101 Copy Tips … lots more great info to share!