How to make the invisible visible?

Let’s play a game: Try to imagine a public park that is an acre big. What comes to your mind? How large is it? How easy was to visualize it? And, how long do you think you’ll be able to remember it? We all know an acre is a sizable piece of land, but we simply can’t visualize it and that might very well be the root cause of the famous adage:

Half of my advertising is wasted, but I don’t know which half.”

Well, the answer might lie in the little game we just played…

Most communication efforts go down the drain because marketers ignore a simple fact: Our brain has evolved to remember concrete ideas better than abstract ones. Neuroscientists found that it’s easier to remember concrete words such as a “rock” than abstract words like an “impact.” Even though we are perfectly capable of thinking in abstract terms, our brain still prefers ideas that we can visualize. So, using just facts or numbers in communications is similar to trying to swim against the current: If our brain can’t visualize it, chances are the concept will be invisible (or unmemorable) to us. Here is a red flag: We should still use numbers, because our brain also needs factual info to support its logic. But, facts need to be seen in the right context in order to be understood and recalled. What we have to do is to take what seems invisible and make it visible. Here is an example…

  1. Let’s start by writing a factual statement. We can throw in the facts and numbers. (i.e. Vancouver’s Stanley Park is 990 acre.)
  2. Now, we could find a well-known area that is almost as big as 990 acres. But our audience must be familiar with the example we are using. For instance, if we are talking to Americans, we can use the Central Park in NY, which is 843 acres. (i.e. Vancouver’s Stanley Park is 990 acres, bigger than the renowned Central Park in New York.) Now, we have a rough idea how big the park is.
  3. Alternatively, we can demonstrate the size of the park by using other numbers. (i.e. Vancouver’s Stanley Park is 990 acres, which is big enough to contain 198,000 cars.)
  4. Or, if we want to engage our audience, we can ask a question, give a hint and let them figure out the rest. (i.e. Vancouver’s Stanley Park is 990 acres. Did you know you could park 200 cars in an acre? Now, imagine the size of Stanley Park…)
  5. We can take it a step further and make the 198,000 cars more visible: (i.e. Vancouver’s Stanley Park is 990 acres, which is large enough to contain more than half of the cars in Vancouver.)

Each example is increasingly more visual and engaging than the previous one. The key here is to make the invisible, visible by “putting it in a relevant context”. What if we can’t find a comparable example?

Innovative Fitness, a Canada-based franchise, wanted to raise awareness for the excess amount of sugar people consume. They could have used facts, numbers and percentages, but the idea would stay invisible. After all, nobody questions the fact that we consume more sugar than we actually should. Also nobody would categorically oppose to the idea of reducing his or her sugar intake. But if our brain can’t visualize a concept, the idea becomes invisible. So, here is how the Innovative Fitness solved the problem:

Amount of sugar in drinks
Making the invisible visible

Today’s actionable insight: Numbers and facts are not evil. Use them as much as you could. However, on their own, they are forgettable. That’s why you should frame the numbers in a relevant context. Make the invisible, visible so that your audience can recall your message better.

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