Marketing Analytics, AKA “Why Is Scarlett Johanssen Hot?”

22 04 2009

Today, everyone wants to know to the penny what’s driving results. Exactly how much incremental sales are we getting from this effort vs. that one?

But, you can’t prove any of this stuff. Neither can I.  What we can do, if we want to waste a whole lot of time and money, is highlight the data that “proves” whatever each of us has already decided beforehand is the right answer.

It’s like doing an analysis to understand why Scarlett Johanssen is hot.


As you can see from the photo above, she is indeed hot.  But, is her left eye contributing more to the overall impression than her right eye? Is it her feet, or her hands? Which toe or finger is driving the most movie sales? Let’s also look at what it does to concession sales, I want a breakdown by popcorn and by Twizzlers. Let’s break it down by neckline and jewelry – do her films gross more when she’s wearing a scoop neck and a pendant, or a v-neck with a diamond?

I’m not saying don’t measure anything. You need that data for direction. But I am saying that we can dig into this until there’s nothing left to dig, and at the end of all knowing… there will still be more questions.

Out in the real world beyond spreadsheets, everything influences everything. Scarlett is hot because she is.

Your TV influences your direct marketing results. You’ll never know exactly how much. The banners you ran will make some sales happen earlier than they would otherwise. You’ll never know exactly how much. The paid search you did last year will drive some percentage of your sales a year from now.

You’ll never know exactly how much. Or why. And it doesn’t matter. It’s a sucker bet.

The competitors who are beating the daylights out of you in the marketplace aren’t winning because their analytics are better than yours.

It’s because while you’re focusing on your spreadsheet, they’re focusing on your customers.




4 responses

22 04 2009

Thanks for the post Tom. It’s like being so busy paying attention to your map that you miss your exit. Reminds me of Covey’s explaination of the difference between being effecient and effective. All the Best!!

23 04 2009
Mike Troiano

I… uh, yea. Lost my train of thought.

23 04 2009
John Magee

Tom, I don’t know you, but I follow you on Twitter and always enjoy it. Out from under the shelter of 140 characters, you’re losing me. For starters: Scarlett Johanssen? Not that hot. More on that in a bit.

In general, this is the kind of argument that gives blogging, and marketing commentary in general, a bad name. Would you care to support your claims with any actual evidence, or would that be yet another example of focusing “too much” on data, as if there is such a thing?

Who, precisely, are these competitors who are beating the daylights out of your readers? How, exactly, do they “focus” on their target customers in the absence of analysis?

This post seems driven by three dangerous lines of argument:

1) Evidence is useless unless it is proven beyond unreasonable doubt. Anyone who actually knows what they are talking about will tell you that good analysis is about maximizing and minimizing the probabilities of success and failure respectively. In different scientific domains, this means different things. For example, the cost of failure in pharmaceuticals is drastically higher than in marketing, so the probabilities are managed differently. Nobody would ever claim 100% certainty.

This is the line of argument used by anti-science doubters – like global warming skeptics – and they inevitably sound shrill.

2) It’s not useful to know about an effect unless you understand the granular reasons for it. Tell this to Dr. Semmelweiss.

3) Great marketing has some sort of soulful aspect and depends on unfettered inspiration for breakthrough success – all of which is hampered, obscured, or destroyed by analysis. I don’t know about the soul bit – I think that’s marketing professionals convincing themselves of a higher purpose, but you’ll find that many of the world’s most inspired artists were systematic, analytical thinkers. Da Vinci. Borges. Stravinsky.

In the end, I’d like to think that happy clients and successful businesses are the ones who are able to predict their business volume within 5% in any given week, or spend half as much as their competition for more customer traffic. All aided by analysis.

There are far too many bad analysts out there, and you may have been burned by one, which is regrettable. And back to Scarlett Johanssen . . . I guess I’m more of a Natalie Portman guy. I wonder why? Wouldn’t it be damn useful to find out?

23 04 2009

Thanks for taking the time to comment, John. Some guys like Natalie Portman, some like Scarlett Johanssen, and still others like Brad Pitt. To each his own.

Your comment paints the issue as a polar choice: we must either believe that analysis is God, or it’s the devil.

For me, analysis is neither God nor Satan: it’s analysis.

It’s very useful for some things — for example, how many people responded to one direct mail offer vs another. But, if a marketer has multiple efforts going on at once — TV, radio, print, PR, social media, etc, it becomes impossible for analysis to isolate the impact of the direct mail vs. all the other activity.

That doesn’t make analysis bad. It just means it can’t tell us everything. I’m curious: in what sense is that an anti-scientific attitude, or shrill?

Let me take each of your comments in turn.

1) I never suggested “evidence is useless unless it is proven beyond unreasonable doubt”. But not all evidence is useful, either. If a Natalie Portman movie did better business than the last one, and she wore hoop earrings, it’s not science to conclude that the earrings rang the cash register. Is it? Where marketers make a mistake is when we confuse “data” with “facts”. They are not synonymous.

2) Sometimes a guy like Semmelweiss is right. Far more often, observations and theories turn out to be wrong. Are you arguing for science here, or against it?

3) Here again, i think you’re presenting a false choice: we must embrace “soul” or “analytic thinking”. Einstein (who was too smart to go into marketing or its analytics) famously said “Imagination is more important than knowledge”. Notice he didn’t say we must choose between the two. I’m a creative guy, and I trust my gut. I rely on analytics for feedback about whether my ideas work or not. I think it’s possible to have a soul and a brain.

Lastly, your comment asks “would you care to support your claims with any actual evidence”. My claim was (and is) that analysis can’t isolate the effect of one marketing tactic from all others.

If you have proof that it can, I did not notice it in your reply. Have I missed something?

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