The Monday Morning Memo: Fact-Based or Values-Based?

Monday-Morning-Memo-Logo1By Roy H. Williams

Relentless repetition was once enough to drive your message home. But it isn’t quite that simple anymore. The impact of your message in this over-communicated hour depends largely on the structural basis of your statements.

A statement is either fact-based or values-based.

A fact-based statement must be true or false. If true, it is a correct statement. If false, it is incorrect. But it is a fact-based statement either way.

Fact-based statements can be proven or disproven objectively. They cannot, by nature, include opinion. But the ‘truth’ of a values-based statement hinges on agreed-upon values. Consequently, values-based statements have the look and feel of fact-based statements to persons of the same opinion.

“Our parking lot has spaces for 38 cars” is a fact-based statement. It can be proven or disproven objectively. Just count the spaces. Personal values and opinions don’t matter.

“There’s always plenty of parking” is a values-based statement. (How much parking, exactly, is ‘plenty’?)

“D-color diamonds are more rare than J-color diamonds,” is a fact-based statement.

“D-color diamonds are more beautiful than J-color diamonds,” is a values-based statement. (And in my opinion, entirely untrue.)

“The Academy Reunion and Open House is October 15 on the new campus of Wizard Academy,” is a fact-based statement.

“We’ve planned some fabulous surprises for you,” is values based.

“Iraq has weapons of mass destruction” is a fact-based statement.

“Saddam Hussein is a bad ruler” is entirely values-based.

Calm down. I use that example only to illustrate how quickly disagreements can arise over statements that are values-based.

Modern advertising overflows with values-based statements: “Big selection.” “High quality.” “Low prices.” “Easy credit.” Even though these statements may be true in the mind of the advertiser, the public has heard them all before.

The left hemispheres of our brains detect fact-based statements and prefer them to statements that are values-based. Having been suffocated by hype for the past 40 years, we hunger today for statements of fact.

Seven years ago I wrote a chapter called The 12 Most Common Mistakes in Advertising. Among those mistakes was, “4. Unsubstantiated claims. Advertisers often claim to have what the customer wants, such as ‘highest quality at the lowest price,’ but fail to offer any evidence. An unsubstantiated claim is nothing more than a cliché the prospect is tired of hearing. You must prove what you say in every ad. Do your ads give the prospect new information? Do they provide a new perspective? If not, prepare to be disappointed with the results.” Today I accelerate that statement: If you would persuade today’s hype-resistant customer, you must learn to make fact-based statements in your ads.

Specifics are more believable than generalities. 

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