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Be Careful With Statistics. They Can Mislead.

As I write this, I’m sitting in Nashville, Tennessee, where I’m attending a music festival. Last night I dropped my cousin off at her apartment on the west side of town. We drove 25 minutes and were still within the city limits of Nashville.

Nashville covers 526 square miles. St. Louis covers 66 square miles.

In most cities, including Nashville and St. Louis, crime occurs in the urban core. There’s far less crime in the well-groomed suburbs outside the core. So when you see those rankings that order cities based on crimes per thousand residents, cities like St. Louis suffer. St. Louis doesn’t include the well-groomed, lower-crime suburbs within the metro area’s boundaries.

My point is not to ignore our community’s crime problem.

My point is to say statistics suck… Or, really, people suck at analyzing statistics.

That’s the case with crime statistics. And it’s definitely the case with marketing statistics.

Here’s an example: I attended a marketing seminar recently. A guy was talking about email marketing, and he presented a campaign his agency managed.
Sixty percent of the people who received the email opened it.

“That’s a great open rate!” he chirped.

More than 75 percent of those who opened the email clicked to get the coupon offered.

“Imagine,” he said, staring off into the distance, “How would your business grow if you could send a promotion that generates a 60 percent open rate and 75 percent click-through rate?”

It was a not-so-subtle pitch for his agency’s services.

The problem: Either this guy sucked at analyzing statistics or he was purposely misleading all those people in the crowd who suck at analyzing statistics.

Here’s what he didn’t tell his audience: The people who received the email were a select fraction of his overall list.

His entire list had several thousand recipients. This email was a follow-up that targeted only people who had clicked links in his email newsletter that was previously sent to everyone.

In other words, he sent the miraculous 60-percent-open-rate email only to already-qualified prospects.

I know this because I asked him after his presentation, “This email you cited, was this sent to your entire list or just a segment?”

He hemmed and hawed at first and then came clean.

It’s as if I ask my wife, kids, mother and grandmother, “Do you love me?” All would say, “Yes” (I think). Then I tell a broad audience everyone loves me.

Ummm … not so. Just a select group loves me.

This should matter to you because you may be tracking statistics for your marketing activities. Statistics matter. But if you’re not careful, you may misread the stats and interpret something as more negative or positive than it really is.


This article first appeared in St. Louis Small Business Monthly for which Tom Ruwitch writes a monthly column. 

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