The Story Economy Blog

Why Numbers Can Make You Think Too Much or Not Enough

numbersI’m working on developing a new video for my brand. It’s had me perusing the web, searching for relevant statistics about creating content in today’s media landscape. I’ve never been the numbers girl, but I know my audience likes them. So I want to showcase some juicy and impressive numbers.

I’d like to find something that says: 100 percent of human beings who will buy from you want to read top-quality content, so you should hire a writer who is really good at finding stories and writing compelling pieces.

I haven’t found that stat yet.

I continue to look. You know, because it’s true.

But I have found some intriguing numbers, through various industry reports and Slideshare presentations from expert-type people who seem legit.


79 percent of marketers say their organizations are shifting to branded content.

53 percent of marketers say that content creation is their most effective strategy for SEO.

60 percent of consumers have more positive feelings about a company when they read custom content on company’s site.

50 percent of marketers say that producing enough compelling content is a top marketing challenge. (Only 50, really? I fear the other 50 may not understand what compelling content is.)

You can believe I’m going to use some of these (and other) statistics. It’s good stuff, and helps me make my case that great content matters. But there is a caveat. So consider this blog post the asterisk to any statistic I use now or in the future about content marketing and content creation.

Because the fundamental problem with statistics is that they put otherwise smart and thoughtful people in modes of either underthinking or overthinking.

Your Brain on Stats

Marketing and ROI statistics can cause us to underthink when we let them become shiny objects of distraction or easy answers that aren’t answers.

So, if you read the stat that posts with videos garner three times more inbound links than plain text posts, you might be tempted to decide all posts now need videos. That’s the underthought-out approach. The doing “A” helps “Z” happen, so I should just throw everything into “A” approach. Except for you’ve forgotten about C, D, E, and F, which might fit your brand, your message, and your talents much better—and also help Z happen.

Maybe you’ve been-there-done-that enough not to fall for the siren song of underthinking. No, your downfall in the face of numbers is quite the opposite: overthinking.

Let me confess that I have been an overthinker my entire life. I’ve had periods in my life (my teenage years come to mind) where I overthought the voice right out of me. So I know how this works.

Consider this stat: our attention span is now only eight seconds (down from 12 seconds in 2000). Here is the kind of overthinking I’ve seen spring from this statistic: Oh my god, no one is paying attention to anything unless it goes viral or has a hook. I have to make something great. I have to make something to catch people’s attention. Something more stupid? More shocking? More ridiculous? More memorable? More sharable? It has to go viral. I have to get influencers on my side. It’s not even worth doing if I can’t get 10,000 likes. Everybody else is doing something way better. They have bigger budgets. I don’t even have enough followers. Nothing matters anyway. No one cares. Why bother.

Statistics will squeeze the life right out of you if you stay on their train too long. Instead of just starting where you are, they can send you down a path of overthinking that will ultimately paralyze you. This is why the last thing in the world anyone starting a small business should do is read statistics about small businesses.

When you’re caught in the underthinking/overthinking vortex, the only thing to do is let the numbers go (for a while—you’ll need them again) and go back to the basics. Your potential clients and customers just want to read good stuff. What can you do to produce content that is good stuff? Forget everything else. Don’t read any marketing reports. Be silent and just work on producing something good.

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