Imagine you own a clothing store. Now you decide to begin a sale for that store. Let’s say a particular type of shorts usually costs $20 per short, but for the purposes of the sale you’re going to mark them down to $15 a piece.
There are two ways you could present that discount. The first would be as a percentage. Going from $20 to $15 would be 25% off. The second would be as an absolute number with $5 off. Which way is better?
Both discounts amount to the same final price. 25% off $20 and $5 off $20 both result in the customer paying $15 for the shorts. So both representations of the discount should have the same effect, right?
Wrong. Jonah Berger, author of Contagion, explains to us that the consumers find the 25% discount more attractive than the 5$ off. While the two discounts are the same economically, they don’t trigger the same psychological effect. One feels like a larger discount than the other.
Accordingly, the next time you’re reporting numerical information, pay attention to how you are presenting it. The way changes are represented can have a big impact on how they’re perceived.
Focus on the final number.
Like the story above, most people seemed to be more enticed by the offer when the discount number was larger. Rule of thumb would be whenever you are offering a discount under $100 display it as a percentage, and when the offer is greater than $100 display it as an absolute number. This will make sure you are always maximizing your psychological impact. Simpler is better. No one cares about a page of numbers and figures that look like the green screen display from the matrix. You need to simplify your results, and then simplify them again. Think of your raw data as a pile of freshly picked vegetables. People don’t want to eat them when they still have dirt and leave stems on them. People want a quick and painless way to stay healthy, so what do you do? You take those vegetables, clean them, cut them, put them in a blender and make a smoothie. Then you take that smoothie and turn it into a wheatgrass shot. Quick and to the point. So yes, your data should be reduced to the size of a wheatgrass shot! After all, the simpler your can represent your findings, the easier it will be for your audience to understand you, which will in turn make your call-to-action more successful.
Tell a story.
Everyone knows the best stories are the ones told with pictures, so use them. Portraying data graphically reveals patterns in the data that are hard to notice otherwise Visual depictions of data are almost universally understood without requiring knowledge of a language. It is also useful to alter your tone and speed as you approach the finding of any given graph. Much like when telling a story, the storyteller tends to get really excited toward the climax or “best part” of the story; it is not only useful but critical to draw attention to the most important features of the data.
I’ll leave you with Hans Rosling’s fascinating TED talk revolved around displaying data effectively, which you can watch here.
Berger, Jonah. “Fuzzy Math: What Makes Something Seem Like A Good Deal?” linkedin. August 28, 2013.
Kakutani, Michiko. “Mapping Out the Path to Viral Fame.” The New York Times. February 25, 2013.
Rosling, Hans. “The Best Stats You’ve Ever Seen.” ted.com. February 2006.