Be Careful How You Read Those Numbers!

I was recently catching up on some reading and came across an article in Fast Company that made the assertion that: “major consumer brands still have a lot to learn as social tools continue to proliferate.” The author shared some data comparing Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts in terms of the percentage of people who hear positive things about the brands and percentage of people who would never recommend the brands. Here’s how it shakes out:

  • % hearing positive things: Dunkin’ Donuts (73%) – Starbucks (49%)
  • % who would never recommend: Dunkin’ Donuts (14%) – Starbucks (27%)

At first blush, if I worked for Starbucks, I might be a bit concerned. But, upon some further thought, the numbers raise more questions than answers for me. Chief among them is “who did they ask?” My assumption is that Dunkin’ Donuts customers are different from Starbucks customers in certain key ways. If the population surveyed was heavily weighted toward the former these numbers are not surprising.

It reminds me of a big “aha!” I had many years ago in a stats course in college: numbers can lie. In fact, in another course on social work methods I learned that not only can they lie, but they can be used, manipulated and reported to convey just about anything you’d like them to convey. Which is why consumers of the media need to be somewhat skeptical and ask lots of good questions.

Consumers of market research data – even data generated by your own organization – need to be equally skeptical. Results only matter if they reflect responses from a market you care about. If I sell upscale, precious metal-based jewelry, I’m not too concerned about what costume-jewelry purchasers think about my brand. I don’t necessarily care whether they hear positive things about my brand – or whether they would recommend it. They’re not my market.

For the numbers above to have any real meaning – IMO – I really need to know who the respondents are and how closely they reflect the target markets of both Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks.

But, maybe that’s just me…

Recommended Reading:

The Everything Guide to Customer Engagement

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