The Trouble with Facts

The trouble with facts – The Fundamental Group

Were you Yanny or Laurel? Unless you’ve been under a rock, you’ve encountered the aural conundrum in the last week or two. (For the record, I was adamantly Laurel, but my kids were firm Yannies) This viral controversy is a metaphor for marketers. What we think are facts really aren’t facts. We have to be careful how we use them.

The same audio clip, played on the same device, to 2 different people, can be heard differently by each. Some hear a high, tinny Yanny sound, while others hear a lower pitched “Laurel.” Whichever camp you’re in, it can be hard to imagine someone hearing the opposite. We aren’t in the business of questioning things we hear clearly. They are objective facts. Unless of course, you hear something different than someone else. Many people have drawn parallels with “The Dress” phenomenon, which also demonstrated that 2 people can examine the exact same item and SEE it differently.

The same goes for marketing. Put up a chart or graph that demonstrates an overall growth trend, and someone might only focus on the one part of the graph where things didn’t grow. You see a 5 year trend, they see a disturbing last quarter. Which is the truth? Your facts aren’t my facts. We’ve seen this play out in a divided nation’s politics. 17 people killed in Parkland Florida is a clear cry for gun control. Unless it’s a clear cry for arming teachers.

We like to believe we are scientists, who evaluate each piece of information, and use those facts to make rational, objective decisions. In truth, we are more like lawyers, who start with a conclusion and work backwards to find facts to justify it. Facts that don’t fit our narrative are ignored, or their source is disparaged or the methodology to obtain them is attacked.

It’s strange then, that marketers still let facts be the core of messaging so often. Statistics, studies, charts and data dominate sales presentations, especially in the world of technology. “No facts left behind” seems to be the guiding principle. We take the approach of establishing one fact per slide, and stack one fact upon another, to arrive at the conclusion and “win the argument.” The problem here is that each fact offers an opportunity for dispute/questioning/misapprehension along the way. For every Yanny you present, I hear Laurel. For every blue dress you present, I see gold. Not to mention that a series of facts laid out sequentially makes for a very dull presentation.

Instead of trying to win over an audience with facts, smart marketers and salespeople are embracing the storytelling approach. They focus on structuring a story that gets the attention of their audience, demonstrates an empathy for them, and shows how their product helps them triumph over the very real challenges they face. Facts take a back seat to emotion and drama, and are introduced only in the context of the larger problem/solution. They are not the focus of the communication, they are the support for the larger story.
So the next time you start to load up a presentation or piece of content with tons of facts, take a step back. Try telling a story instead, so your Yanny isn’t heard as Laurel.

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