prove_it_tshirt-p235665999968993845q6wh_400It’s a rare thing when I take excep­tion to one of Seth Godin’s posts. But his last post on “Too much data leads to not enough belief” had me quibbling.

Of course, there IS a lot that I agree with in the post: namely that peo­ple respond to a story and a tribal affil­i­a­tion far more strongly than they will ever respond to a spread­sheet.  But I guess from a Web per­spec­tive, the idea of gran­u­lar­ity and data as a hin­drance to belief just doesn’t square with my observations.

What I’ve tended to see is the following:

  • Peo­ple go to the Web to check things out.  They’re specif­i­cally research­ing a pur­chas­ing deci­sion and are expect­ing more data from a Web­site than from an ad or even a direct mailer.  When you don’t pro­vide that data, peo­ple get suspicious.
  • Con­tent rich Web­sites tend to con­vert bet­ter than con­tent poor sites. That doesn’t mean the data should take cen­ter stage or should replace a well-crafted story, just that those peo­ple who want to drill down on specifics, well, they want to be able to drill down on specifics.  And they’ll find those specifics from some­where, even if it’s from an ill-informed opin­ion on a forum somewhere.
  • The mere pres­ence of (and access to) data is often enough to pro­vide con­fi­dence.  Data can some­times be like a pri­vacy pol­icy, most peo­ple just want to know that it exists and that you’re con­fi­dent enough to show it to them with­out really want­ing to exam­ine it in any great detail.  The mere fact that you have the infor­ma­tion and have pro­vided access to it is often enough to engen­der buyer confidence.

Can you imag­ine New­ton Run­ning being unwill­ing to show you the sci­ence behind their run­ning shoes?  What would that do to your con­fi­dence if they wouldn’t show you (or didn’t have any) data from their tests?

Again, I may not need to study their graphs or watch all of their videos or look up their patents, but the very fact that they’re pas­sion­ate enough to get into the nitty-gritty details with me — the fact that they do actu­ally have data — makes me far more will­ing to believe them and to buy a pair of their shoes than if they wanted me to just accept their product/idea on faith.

I also think that pas­sion­ate proof is an essen­tial ele­ment of any high-margin or pre­mium product’s Web­site, which is one of the main rea­sons I wrote my cri­tique of Best Made Axe’s lack of proof.

To me, data isn’t a hin­drance to pas­sion­ate belief — it’s proof of it. How can you be pas­sion­ate about an idea, design, or prod­uct unless you’re will­ing to put it to the test and show off the results?

What’s Your Experience

Of course, I’m always will­ing to hear thoughts from my read­ers. What do you guys and gals think?  What’s been your expe­ri­ence? Have you ever had a sit­u­a­tion where less would have been bet­ter when it came to proof and substantiation?


  1. Shane on 01.21.2010

    I can’t fig­ure out why Seth is try­ing to court skep­tics in the first place. That’s like Apple try­ing to please Microsoft. Lately, I believe his mes­sag­ing is con­flicted. Just my two cents.

  2. Jeff on 01.21.2010


    I hon­estly think he was try­ing to say that data shouldn’t get in the way of an emo­tion­ally gal­va­niz­ing mes­sage. Unfor­tu­nately, his post made it sound as if the data itself was the prob­lem rather than the way peo­ple han­dled and pre­sented the data.

    The data/proof is only one part of the mes­sage, and maybe not even the most impor­tant part, but most of the time, it’s gotta be there. There usu­ally has to be some sub­stance to your mes­sag­ing at some point for most peo­ple to believe you. That’s my take on it, at least. Of course, his­tory and pol­i­tics can pro­vide ample coun­terex­am­ples to that, too.

    - Jeff

  3. Rob Willox on 01.21.2010

    When is too much too much? Maybe never!

    It might just depend on how and where the data is pre­sented and, of course, the vis­i­tors who want or need to see it before mak­ing a decision.

    The idea of per­sonas with their expec­ta­tions, require­ments, moti­va­tions and per­son­al­ity traits is impor­tant and crit­i­cal par­tic­u­larly in a buy­ing environment.

    Some may be happy just buy­ing the prod­uct and get­ting their hands on it; oth­ers may require more con­vinc­ing and other may need a lot more convincing.

    Hav­ing the infor­ma­tion avail­able in a gran­u­lar form enables those who need it, to find it and pro­gres­sively con­sume enough of it until they are sat­is­fied and con­vinced enough to take the next step in the process whether that be adding to bas­ket or click­ing the buy now button.

    The fact that ‘Con­tent rich Web­sites tend to con­vert bet­ter than con­tent poor sites’ merely indi­cates that they do so because they sat­isfy more of their vis­i­tors needs and con­cerns enabling more of them to start and com­plete the desired tasks lead­ing to higher conversions.

    - Rob Willox

  4. Tom Wanek on 01.21.2010

    Jeff, this reminds me of Ogilvy’s advice on craft­ing a mar­ket­ing strat­egy: “Big ideas come form the uncon­scious. This is true in art, in sci­ence and in adver­tis­ing. But your uncon­scious has to be well informed, or your idea will be irrelevant.”

    I real­ize Ogilvy’s advice looks at mar­ket­ing from the busi­ness owner’s per­spec­tive, but I also believe this trans­fers over to the consumer’s per­spec­tive and rel­e­vant data increases the believ­abil­ity of your mes­sage.
    .-= Tom Wanek´s last blog ..Choos­ing Which Cus­tomers To Lose =-.

  5. Lorraine on 01.22.2010

    I agree with you, Jeff.

    Use­ful, copi­ous con­tent con­fers cred­i­bil­ity. As you men­tion, even if vis­i­tors don’t read it, they like know­ing the infor­ma­tion exists, a con­ve­nient click away.

    Good con­tent also makes your site more of a return des­ti­na­tion. (For search spi­ders as well as people–but SEO ben­e­fits could fill an addi­tional post!)

    And here’s the thing: Link­age makes it pos­si­ble to include a huge amount of con­tent with­out over­whelm­ing peo­ple. If thought­fully designed with dif­fer­ent vis­i­tors in mind, the site lets peo­ple drill down to get as much–or as little–info, enter­tain­ment, proof, etc., as they need.
    .-= Lorraine´s last blog ..Hire an Expen­sive Copywriter—and Start Sav­ing Money =-.

  6. Kim Dudra on 01.22.2010

    For an excel­lent pre­sen­ta­tion on deep con­tent strate­gies, listen/watch Steve Woods’s Jan­u­ary 20 BrightTALK presentation.

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