5 Mistakes you make when you leave the science out of marketing

Marketing is naively thought to be mostly art and very little science. While it is true that there is are elements of inspiration and creativity and passion involved, the balance of an effective strategic marketing role is heavily in favour of science.

As a further point to consider, I put forward the proposition that much of really great science involves inspiration and creativity in passion in more than equal measures to a successful marketing decision. Newton’s development of the laws of motion and gravity, Copernicus’ solar-centered world, Pasteur’s painstaking experiments to support and understand germ theory are all well known examples of brilliance and flair combined with method and rigour.

But where does science contribute to marketing? Is it possible to reap the benefits of logic and analysis and rigour without damaging the creative process?

The answer is “absolutely without a doubt” for numerous reasons. I will touch on just one in the next few paragraphs to demonstrate the idea.

Introducing analytics

The most commonly thought of analytics when it comes to marketing is customer analytics. Better understanding of customer behaviour, preferences and ultimately buying decisions is enormously valuable. Take what was done in the past, compare the success rates of the different initatives, and stop doing the ones that don’t work.

Any organisation can benefit from understanding what works and what doesn’t, and shifting resources to those functions that work. Good organisations also understand the value of play and experimentation, and will continue to allow an element of trial and error. Truly excellent organisations combine experimentation with analytics to truly understand on a measurable level which experiments work and which should be tossed.

A real life example of the place of analytics

Let’s consider a very specific example. An old university friend of mine has started a new venture with a unique offering that clearly means a great deal to him. He has the passion, and presumably the product, to make his idea a success. He also had the good sense to plug into social networking platforms such as Facebook to spread the word of his new website and associated content. So far we have an excellent platform for success.

Mistake #1: Ignoring pre-existing science and analytical results

However, the design of the website appears to have been performed without understanding the hard, measurable evidence from a range of pre-existing studies and material. The website makes it difficult to buy. A long slide-show intro precedes access to the main page, frustrating regular visitors to the page (the intro cannot be skipped) and severaly damaging the ability of his site to be spidered and highly ranked by search engines.

So several mistakes have been made by disregarding the clear evidence that has been accumulated through analysing customer behaviour on similar projects.

Mistakes #2: Not performing analytics on web page at the outset

An excellent first step in understanding how customers will interact with your sales channel is to watch customers interact with your sales channel. Before a site goes live, invite some representatives from your target market (friends and family will do in a pinch if budget is tight, as long as you are confident they will give honest feedback).

Watch them interact with your website (or other sales and information channel). Where are they confused? Do they ask many questions? You won’t be there in person for most of your customers. What do they say is good, what do they say is ugly. If one guinea pig says something doesn’t work, that could be personal preference. If all 3 or 4 give similar feedback, the scientific evidence is mounting and a wise marketer would make changes.

This can be a very quick and easy, but amazingly valuable way to understand the strengths and weaknesses of your approach. Don’t assume you are just like your customers.

Mistakes #4: Not starting to collect analytics and data from the start

It is so easy to collect useful information, if you plan it in from the start. Once the system is set up and the process is working, invaluable information will flow with every visit, every call, every surf and every purchaser.

Not setting up to collect data is usually the first sign that the marketer doesn’t understand the value of understanding the customer.

Mistake #5: Thinking science cheapens the experience

Perhaps this should be mistake #1. Many people with great ideas feel that their ideas should sell on their own merit. They view logical, analytical understanding of customers to be beneath them. If the product is good, if customers will benefit from purchasing the good or service from you, then you owe it to them to make it as easy as possible for as many as possible of them to effortlessly find their way from oblivious potential customer to satisfied repeat customer.

If your aim is to build the perfect mousetrap, perhaps it is worth finding out what customers want in a mousetrap, where they like to buy it and how they like to buy it.

Published by David Kirk

The opinions expressed on this site are those of the author and other commenters and are not necessarily those of his employer or any other organisation. David Kirk runs Milliman’s actuarial consulting practice in Africa. He is an actuary and is the creator of New Business Margin on Revenue. He specialises in risk and capital management, regulatory change and insurance strategy . He also has extensive experience in embedded value reporting, insurance-related IFRS and share option valuation.

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