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Numbers play a big part in marketing. Numbers are used in headlines (“The Top 3 Reasons Why You’ll Love this Product”), rankings (“Voted the #1 Compost Shop in the South Valley”), prices (“Get 4 Tickets for Just $29.99 Each”) and more.

In many situations, odd numbers ($29.99 vs. $30) produce the best response. But as this month’s article discusses, when it comes to rankings, research shows that making a claim that is perceived as “odd” is not a good idea.


You just received the good news: Your company was ranked 17th on a list of the “Top 50” out of thousands of your peers nationwide. What’s the best way to promote this ranking? Just saying you’re “#17” doesn’t sound very impressive. After all, although you know you beat out thousands of others, your target audience probably does not.

Should you claim to be in the “Top 17”? “Top 20”? “Top 50”? “#17”? “One of the best”? Or what?

As it turns out, researchers have studied this issue.1 Here are some of the highlights of what they found about the role of expectations in consumer response to imprecise rank claims:

  • People prefer familiar tiers – Consumers have a strong comfort level with the numbers that marketers use all the time: 10, 20, 25, 50 and 100. This preference is so strong that a weaker claim such as “Top 20” can beat out a stronger claim, such as “Top 17.”

    Why? Because the commonly-used tiers are so familiar that we accept them as a mark of quality without giving them much thought. “Top 20” is something that we intuitively understand. “Top 17” is unfamiliar, and its strangeness makes us stop and think. That pause feels jarring, and it leads us to analyze the claim more carefully.

  • Tiers outperform absolute numbers – Outside of being “#1” (or, perhaps, #2 or #3), the study found that in marketing, a ranking claim such as “Top 20” generally outperforms “Top 17,” which generally outperforms “#17.”

  • Open-ended claims might be even better – Surprisingly, the open-ended claim “One of the Best” scored higher than unimpressive rankings regardless of their format. Being “One of the Best” is evidently better than being in the “Top 50.” Perhaps this is because the open-ended claim can be somewhat misleading—people might assume you’re #4 and not #44.

1 Mathew S. Isaac, Aaron R. Brough, and Kent Grayson. “Is Top 10 Better Than Top 9? The Role of Expectations in Consumer Response to Imprecise Rank Claims.” Journal of Marketing Research.


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