Don’t fall for headline stats

My biggest bugbear about research is how many companies shout about a headline statistic that either only exists to serve a self-promotional purpose or is insignificant when put in context.

Mindi Chahal

It’s easily done and many people wouldn’t think twice about repeating an attention-grabbing statistic to another person or to their followers online, but it’s important to look at how and why these statistics exist. 

There is a point to my Wednesday whinge. Good quality research, especially research with interesting headline stats, shouldn’t suffer as a result of poorer studies. 

For example, a website that helps users with phone menu options claims that 75 per cent of UK customers are open to switching their business because of complicated phone menus, polled from users of the site. 

I’m also sceptical of beauty brand claims stating that a certain percentage of women would recommend a product, although the sample size is too small to be significant. 

There are obvious ways to steer clear of the rubbish, including checking the research is conducted by a reputable company, that it’s not too self serving and to taking a closer look at the sample size.    

That is all common sense to those working in the industry and those who come across research on a regular basis, but my favourite way to call out dodgy statistics are those that unpick previous ridiculous claims to what consumers are doing and why – as long as the source and sample size are noteworthy. 

For example, the latest research, from communications and marketing group Bite and consultancy Redshift Research, examines the myths associated with millennials that has been born from previous insight and it’s this type of research that serves a valuable purpose.      

The Millennial Index study consists of online surveys of 2,000 millennials, those born between 1981 and 2004, in the US and UK and is based on nationally representative samples by age, gender and region on both sides of the Atlantic.

The most interesting myth-busters in the research relate to social media and the use of smartphones and tablets, two areas synonymous with this generation. 

However, the study shows that only 41 per cent spend more than three hours a week on Facebook while 43 per cent don’t use Twitter at all and 65 per cent of millennials spend more time accessing the internet via a laptop or desktop PC than via their smartphone or tablet.   

The study also states that while the common view is that millennials daydream about glamour and fame, ignoring the mundane realities of having to work hard for a living, the study found that as many believe that determination is the secret of success followed as hard work, at 77 per cent each. 

The point of the headline stat is to grab your attention, but it’s important to take a closer look at the serious ones so you don’t get mislead.   


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