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.