Last week, UAE-based public relations consultancy ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller released its eighth annual Arab Youth Survey, a study that looks at the thoughts, opinions, and aspirations of young people across the Arab world. What I love most about the Arab Youth Survey is its ability to tell countless stories about one of the region’s largest and most important demographics.
I might be a complete word nerd, but I really love dealing with numbers and raw data. With data, you have the opportunity to uncover stories that have yet to be written – to draw connections and conclusions that have previously eluded detection.
But even with their incredible power and potential, numbers without context tell us nothing.
Taken year by year, the Arab Youth Survey is interesting, but not groundbreaking; it’s informative, but not compelling. However, if you look at the evolution of attitudes and opinions over the course of the last eight years, a fascinating picture emerges: one of a rapidly changing region, of communities transitioning from resignation to empowerment to measured optimism. It’s the story of a generation that’s doing its best to toe the line between contrasting, and sometimes conflicting, sets of values.
As fascinating as the Arab Youth Survey is, I still find that some of the conclusions drawn from the study are too focused on establishing broad consensus and identifying wide-reaching trends among Arab youth, while glossing over many important intraregional differences and distinctions. Here, it is the application of the numbers that fails to tell the whole story. And remember: we’re still talking about a high-quality survey conducted by a world-class international polling firm. What I'm saying is that data is tricky business.
So what about the data that drives your business decisions? Are your numbers telling an honest story, or are they painting an inaccurate picture? How do you even know?
Let me tell you about another survey I came across a few months ago:
When I was still working in the communications industry, I received an email asking me to complete a market research survey for a sister agency. The survey started out by asking me about a particular type of product – let’s just say it was cheese.
It asked me about the brands of cheeses I most recognized; it asked me all sorts of questions about my cheese habits and preferences.
Next, it showed me a logo I’d never seen before, and asked me if I knew what it was; I didn’t. It then asked me to guess what type of product the company might be selling. Never one to miss context clues – especially when they’re smacking me in the face – I obviously guessed ‘cheese.’ Bingo!
See what they did there? It’s called survey priming – and it inadvertently ruined their survey results.
The problem, of course, is that this survey was supposed to help gauge the public’s perception and awareness of the brand in question. But because the survey primed respondents with questions about cheese before asking them about the brand, the survey results will likely show a very high rate of brand awareness, while the truth is that the company in question actually lacks any kind of strong brand recognition in the local market.
This doesn’t seem like a big deal, really, until you think about the fact that there’s a cheese company out there that’s planning its communications strategy based on the false assumption that people are already familiar with the brand.
Of course, there are always limitations to what data can tell us. But if you’re not asking the right questions to the right people – and in the right order – your data isn’t just limited; it’s useless.
In the coming weeks, I’ll be digging deeper into the relationship between numbers and narratives, and how you can harness the power of both – simultaneously! – to elevate your business and boost your bottom line.
In the meantime, I’d love to know what types of data your company uses to drive business decisions! How does your brand gather the insights that guide your marketing and communications strategy? Share your own experiences in the comments!