What can bad science teach as about good marketing?

I have just been reading a book called “Bad Science” by Ben Goldacre.  Much of the discussion in the book reminded me of some “Bad Marketing” that I have witnessed over the years.

Ben Goldacre is a doctor and a journalist.  He takes a very well researched and scientific approach to examine some of the medical and health fads that we get to hear about in the media or in the advertising and promotion of various miracle cures.  

He is particularly acerbic about Patrick Holford (vitamin pills), Gillian McKeith (examining toilet matter on TV) and Homeopathy, as well as exposing some of the more dubious techniques deployed by pharmaceutical companies to conceal information and selectively present test results to demonstrate the effectiveness of their drugs.  He then goes on to question the way the media distort findings using bad statistics to make risks seem more serious than they really are.

The most potent chapter for marketers and business leaders though is one called “Why clever people believe stupid things”.  He identifies 6 influences that can lead us astray.

  1. Randomness – we can be blind the really random nature of events 
  2. The dominance of the mean – we see favourable results when really they are just average and normal
  3. Bias to positive evidence – the peculiar and perpetual state to be more moved and excited by affirmatives than negatives
  4. We are biased by our previous beliefs
  5. Influence of what we personally witness – seeing something yourself is more persuasive and powerful than studying or reading or seeing data about it.
  6. Social conformity – the prevailing beliefs around us in our business or social group will always 

In medicine and health, these things can lead us to believe risks that are not true (e.g. MMR scare) or seek cures that are just a waste of time and money.  The parallel in business is that these things lead us away from the evidence about what works and what will be most effective in stimulating more growth or more profits.

Of course none of us have ever done any of these things?!

  • Found the research evidence that process our point and stopped looking any further.
  • Commissioned further research because  we did not get the answer we were looking for
  • Failed to set up measurement that allows a full assessment of our campaign results.
  • Argued that we should not spend money testing the finished TV ad because we have already made the ad and therefore we could not change it anyway.
  • Accepted the conventional wisdom in the company about what works and what does not work.
  • Choose the statistics that make the point we want to prove.
  • Argue that we need to make intuitive judgments and these can override the need to get evidence or analyse the results

Well I think I can put my hand up as guilty on each count at different times.  

The single thought for me is “why do clever people believe stupid things”?

Should marketers know how to add up?

I was prompted to write this by reading a blog post on Branding Strategy Insider.  The post describes a number of quick and easy tests to assess the marketing competency of an organisation. A number of these tests are relevant and compelling.  What is striking is what is missing.  There is no mention of financial capability, nor sales figures or profit performance or other quantitative measures.

Read post here>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Emotional benefits, brand strategy statements, positioning maps all have their place in creating a compelling proposition.  But the trend in favour of developing tools for these things sometimes can be at the expense of linking them to business fundamentals (profit, sales, etc)

We know that financial criteria matter in successful profitable growing businesses. Marketers risk isolating themselves from the business team every time that claim to develop competencies and skills but then fail to link these to financial performance.

You know you must link your marketing investment to financial results. Investments in marketing communications are frequently subject to this assessment.  Insight and research work is sometimes developed in this way.  Marketing competency work must include this.
As practitioners we must make sure that we relate everything to the financial impact on the business. 

Is this “old hat” in the world of emotional benefits, social networking and brand management tools?  It seems that way in some parts of the fashionable marketing world.  But in our day to day work with clients, we have the sense that it is not “old hat”.  

Business results matter and marketers.  So we vote for marketers knowing how to add up.