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I’m old enough to remember when all you needed to do to persuade an executive about an issue was to show him some data in a spreadsheet. “The computer is always right,” they thought, so they went along with whatever you presented. (OK, I am older than dirt.) Now people quickly started to realize that you could manipulate a spreadsheet in a million ways to make the calculations come out your way, but there is still plenty of magical thinking going on, where we believe whatever the computer says instead of using our own judgment. If you are counting on magical marketing, you’ll probably have a problem sooner rather than later.
I see many different clients engage in magical marketing every day:
- One company I know pours enormous effort into multivariate testing, but relatively little into the creative work that gets tested. So, they pick the optimal answer among a number of poor choices.
- Another company uses social media listening platforms that provide totally algorithmic analysis and wonders why their current algorithmic platform gives different answers than their old algorithmic platform. Just because both platforms use computers doesn’t mean the data collects and counted the same way. [Full disclosure: I serve as Chief Strategist at Converseon, which uses human and algorithmic analysis for social media listening.]
- Still another company allows paid search algorithms to manage its entire budget based on return on advertising spending, reducing spending on poorly selling products instead of first investigating why they are bombing. So, new products get lower budgets than existing products because their sales pitches are less polished.
These are just a few examples where we fool ourselves in thinking that the computer can do our job for us. We have many reasons to use computers to analyze data, and they are very good at that, but we can’t expect that they will magically run our business for us. It’s amazing to me that we’ve gone from a situation where many marketers would never dream of relying on numbers to make any decisions to one where some marketers are letting computers make bigger decisions than they are capable of.
As difficult as it might be, an all or nothing approach won’t get it done. You can’t avoid using computers to run your statistics completely but you also can’t turn over everything you are doing to a robot. Understanding the limits of what technology can do is just as important as understanding what technology is good at. Your m marketing results are at stake.