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I found myself reading a news site last week, and came across a political statement. They said that somewhere around 60% of Americans would not vote for a socialist, in regards to presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. I'm used to poorly reported statistics in the news, but this one was a good opportunity for a blog post- especially after seeing another report, saying that almost half of Americans would vote for a socialist.

This brings me to the concept of framing. Framing is what you do when you word your message to get a desired response. It's also the thing that causes you to get drawn in and believe bad statistics, or to buy a product you really shouldn't have. I'll explain this with a rundown of the famous experiment that is generally used as an example:

Participants were offered two alternative solutions for 600 people affected by a hypothetical deadly disease:

  • Option A saves 200 people’s lives
  • Option B has a 1/3 chance of saving all 600 people and a 2/3 possibility of saving no one

72% of participants chose option A.

They offered the same scenario to another group of participants, but worded differently:

  • If option C is taken, then 400 people die
  • If option D is taken, then there is a 1/3 chance that no people will die and a 2/3 probability that all 600 will die

However, in this group, 78% of participants chose option D (equivalent to option B)

Isn't that something? Context matters. The particular example of the news story is also a leading question in statistical terms, but the concept is basically the same. More importantly, the reporting from two different sources tell us two completely different stories. Are Americans not willing to vote for this person, or are they extremely progressive? Depends who you ask. And that's important to you, because your marketing should send the message you want.

I have two purposes in writing this. The first is to encourage you to think analytically when seeing numbers, statistics and things like that. If you look at the raw data without letting your bias get in the way, you'll make a better decision, be it something personal, political or business related. The second is to show that this is a powerful form of cognitive bias, which you can use to tell the audience the right thing. Here are a few examples from past research:

Percentages: Percentages are considered more vague of a concept than numbers. So, if something is a negative (and small), you should give it a percent value, especially with a qualifier- 'less than 1% of patients experienced these side effects', for example. On the other hand, if you want to make a point you should use numbers; '9 out of 10 doctors recommend this' (as opposed to 10% of doctors that don't).

Price Bundling: One research project showed that grouping pricing in packages can make a deal seem more valuable, even if nothing changes. For example, look at Ebay. For anything. Look how many listings say 'Free Shipping' underneath. Those ads, even if they mark up the regular price, get more clicks. Even more amazing, on open bids the free shipping items end up earning substantially more than those that charge, even when paying for shipping would have been the cheaper option.

The applications go on like this, but I'm not going to detail it too much. The point is simply that putting yourself in the audience's shoes, and thinking in detail about how they interpret your information, will increase your sales. In our work, we accomplish this first through guiding the dialog in a company's video, and second by assisting with website and social media language. Context extends out to visual language, as well, in terms of choosing the locations and color schemes of your video content. Making sure every aspect of your video and customer experience represents your story properly is just as important as how you write the descriptions on your website.