Want to hear one of the worst things that a marketer can do?
That’s the answer — guessing. Guessing rather than knowing often produces serious marketing mistakes.
Why is this true? Because our guesses are often wildly inaccurate and strategically dangerous. A guess-based approach to marketing could plunge your business into disaster.
That’s how marketing used to be.
In decades past, the success of a marketing director depended heavily on his or her ability to predict the future, often times by guessing. Guess well, and you were a success. Guess poorly, and your marketing career was short-lived. Marketers became adept at reading the tea leaves, and depending upon their gut and experience to make educated guesses.
Those days are long gone. Today, we’re floating in oceans of available data. Yet we still make guesses.
The problem comes when we fail to 1) realize our need for data or 2) seek the necessary data.
Where does that leave most marketers?
They are still guessing.
Why? Because many marketers only have average amounts of data. An average amount of data, I would argue, is insufficient data.
What are the most common guesses that marketers make?
In this article, I focus on three:
- Guessing about the audience or customers
- Guessing about social media strategy
- Guessing about general trends based on surveys or studies
Don’t guess at what your customers’ want.
This is one of the most dangerous guessing games because customers are the lifeblood of any business.
If you make the wrong guesses about your customers, then your business is on a sure path to destruction.
There are several reasons why marketers guess about what customers want.
Here are some of those reasons:
Reason 1 : The customers’ wants appear obvious.
If you create a product for a customer, then you automatically assume that a customer needs, wants, and will buy that product. You don’t identify it as a guess because it feels so much like a fact.
Reason 2: The customer environment appears unreachable or beyond our control.
We’ve been trained to think like this (actual quote):
The external environment is something that we really have no control over, but we can make some intelligent predictions about what will or may happen and then determine how we should shape our strategy in light of those predictions.
This typifies the attitude of so many marketers who think that they have to make guesses because, well, it’s a big scary world out there!
While you may not control the external environment, you do possess the ability to find data that will advise your marketing decisions and give you sophisticated predictions about external trends, variables, and influences.
I’ll use the example of Chad, who blogged about his lack of data in addressing a problem of location and consumer growth for his theater.
Here’s what he wrote:
Over the years at Arena Stage, I’ve been faced with challenges that have very few, if any, precedents. There wasn’t any data to pull from, either internally or from other companies. We were in uncharted waters.
What to do?
Should he guess?
Chad decided not to guess. Instead, he wrote: “That’s when market research became critical.”
Market research is hard work. Sometimes, it’s expensive.
However, market research keeps us from making dangerous assumptions about the very people who allow our businesses to exist.
Assuming the wrong things about your consumers is far more costly than investing in data-backed market research.
The research might cost a few thousand dollars, but the guess could cost you the business.
Chad’s decision proved correct. His actions based on research earned them awards, a decline in attrition, and a recognition of leadership status in the industry. The customer research informed decision-making in three main areas.
I want to call out these areas because they are often the three areas where we tend to make guesses about our audience:
- Branding – Do you know what colors your audience likes? How about the overall feel of your marketing materials, the aggressiveness of your tagline, or even the name of your brand?
- Customer Service – How much or how little service do your customers need? Do they prefer on-the-phone hand-holding, or IM popups on the website — or neither? How much should you invest in customer service?
- Pricing – Do you know how much disposable income your target audience has and how much they budget for expenditures like your product or service? Do you know what the going rate for similar services is?
I’m simply throwing questions out there because these are precisely the kinds of factors that we tend to guess about.
And they are precisely the kinds of information that market research can provide us with.
Stop guessing, and start researching.
2. Don’t guess at the profitability or usefulness of social media channels.
Social media is the siren song of marketing.
We’re irresistibly drawn to its effervescent beauty and ever-shifting models.
Virtually every business engages in social media marketing because “it’s just the thing to do.” These are the messages we hear:
- 1 billion people are on Facebook!
- Your target audience is interacting on Twitter!
- There are active LinkedIn groups that are searching for your product!
- Google+ drives millions of sales annually.
- Pinterest is the social media channel with the highest level of engagement.
- Instagram will skyrocket your marketing channel.
- Snapchat is the way to create viral campaigns and rabidly loyal customers.
- Periscope could generate your company millions in annual revenue.
On it goes…
Is social media marketing viable and valuable?
Of course it is!
But are you guessing at social media’s effectiveness for your business?
Often times, the answer is yes.
Why do we guess at social media?
- Because social media is still young. We don’t have decades of trends and data to pull from.
- Because we have a hard time creating KPIs for social media.
- Because quantifying the ROI of social media marketing is challenging.
A May 2015 report from TrustRadius revealed appalling news about the status of social media marketing.
One of the most surprising results was the lack of confidence that marketers had in the overall effectiveness of their social media.
Half of all respondents admitted that they had difficulty “tying social activities to business outcomes.” Most were clueless about the ROI of social media marketing. Few possessed a real strategy, and a third were simply wondering how to analyze their results.
Social media metrics are easy to get. Just use any free tool or social media analyzer and you can get some sweet looking charts and sizzling hot numbers in a jiffy.
The problem with much of this information is vanity metrics blindness.
- An 80% “engagement” rate, might sound good, but is it positively impacting the business?
- Does a 25% CTR on a Twitter post signal business success?
- Will your 2,890 Facebook shares produce positive revenue growth?
Much of the data we’re mining isn’t actionable. This has produced data paucity, leaving us in the desperate position of — you guessed it — making more guesses.
We social media marketers need a nuanced method for analyzing social media data if we want to be more effective.
3. Don’t guess at your own marketing strategy based on someone else’s data.
I love studies, surveys, reports, and white papers. In fact, in the course of researching this article, I examined several.
While such data-driven studies are valuable and interesting, you shouldn’t use them to make marketing decisions or even to drive your strategy.
Because that strategy is built on someone else’s data and research!
- The correct response to a white paper is not “Let me do that, too!”
- The correct response to a white paper is rather, “That’s interesting. Let me examine their process for solving that problem, and see if I can solve my problem in a similar way!”
I see this happen all the time in conversion rate optimization.
CRO is a tough field. There are only a few agencies and individuals doing it really well. That’s why it’s easy to ogle a study like this, and walk away determined to do the same.
Let’s look at an example.
Let’s say you’re a marketer short on time, high on eagerness, and low on patience. You see that changing a CTA button from blue to green boosted conversion rates by 38%.
What are you going to do?
You’re going to change your button color.
But this is dangerous. Why? Because you’re making a decision for your business based on another business’s data, study, split test, model, strategy, audience, environment, timing, website, interface, user-base, audience demographics, psychographics, and insights.
In other words, you’re guessing.
It would be better for you to look at this study and…
- Be curious.
- Go back to your own market research and existing data.
- Assess the risk vs. reward of testing your own CTA buttons.
- Run a split test, that is likely to return actionable data.
The only data that you can rely on to positively impact your marketing is your own data.
Don’t make dangerous marketing guesses based on someone else’s data.
But what if you have to guess?
Are there times when you have to guess?
If you feel like you’re in a position where you must guess, I would suggest that you do the following brief exercise:
- Identify the facts or data you might need in order to avoid guessing.
- Determine how to arrive at these facts or get this data.
- If you find a method, platform, system, or resource that will give you this information, postpone your decision until you’ve had a chance to gain some data.
Most marketing questions have been asked, and most problems have been solved.
How have these problems been solved?
There are thousands of software products and services that parse the tiniest data points to give you more information in more forms than you can imagine.
Keep in mind, however, that simply throwing more data into the mix won’t automatically solve problems.
Instead, we need the right data, used in smart ways, and implemented at the right time.
You might face a rare situation or two when you need to guess. In such cases, balance your knowledge of data on one side and your experience-based human judgment on the other.
- Obviously, you don’t have data that is directly relevant to the situation. However, you do have a knowledge of data trends.
- You also have experience — a sense of how your marketing initiatives have worked in the past. This experience informs your judgment.
Using these two together, you can make a guess.
But realize this: It’s just a guess.
And you probably shouldn’t do it very often.
I appreciated this remark that I read in Marketing Experiments:
So if you find yourself among the 20% who are data impoverished, use it to your advantage. Start from scratch and focus on the information that is really going to help you move the needle by understanding what your customers really want, and delivering on it, instead of getting stuck in analysis paralysis with endless reports.
Like I mentioned above, simply scrambling to get more data isn’t always the best solution.
Instead, think hard about the problem, then identify exactly what kind of data you need. Get the data; then take action.
You may need to go outside the traditional methods of marketing, engaging in growth hacking techniques or other alternative methods.
It’s easy to become sidetracked by useless data. What we need is solid, smart, actionable data.
And we need to stop making guesses.
What kind of guesses are you tempted to make in your marketing efforts?