The Wile E. Coyote School of Marketing

25 11 2008

Recently, I was talking with some friends about today’s worship of measurement and ROI over all other considerations. While it’s important, it is not and never will be a substitute for judgment.

Even Young-Bean Song, Director of Analytics at Microsoft Atlas Institute cautions “What we have done well is measurement for the bottom of the funnel…clicks, conversion, sales, revenue, etc. But we’ve turned the purchase funnel into a purchase spoon.”

It occurred to me that marketing follows a predictable cycle that ought to be taught in all MBA programs, but never is. Here’s how it works:


1. Declare the last god worshipped a hopeless dead-end.
2. Forget all lessons learned; abandon anything that was working really well.
3. Find a new false god to worship.
4. Affix blindfold.
5. Chase the new false god directly over the cliff.
6. Fall to bottom of chasm. Dust self off.
7. Declare the last god worshipped a hopeless dead-end.
8. Forget all lessons learned; abandon anything that was working really well.
9. Choose the next false god to worship.
10. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.


Popular false gods include Substituting Market Research For Judgment, Creativity-At-Any-Cost, and This-Week’s-Technology-Will-Save-Us.

Bill Bernbach had it right more than 40 years ago. “Advertising is fundamentally persuasion and persuasion happens to be not a science, but an art.”

If I ruled the marketing world, I would separate the analysts from the marketers and have them both report to the CEO. The job of the marketer would be to dream and imagine; the job of the analyst would be to objectively look at the numbers.

When you put both functions in the same position, there’s a huge temptation to mix up those two tasks in dangerous ways.

ADDENDUM: When I shared this thought with my wise friend Dane Madsen, he wrote: “The only issue you have to overcome is that the quants run the finance department and they see a savings in personnel costs. Merge the position: Problem solved!”

This is what I call the Winnie the Pooh problem. To paraphrase the first chapters of the book:

HERE is Winnie The Pooh (aka “marketing”), coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin (aka “finance”).

It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping for a moment and think of it.

And then he feels that perhaps there isn’t.

Is There A Phrenologist In The House?

25 07 2008

Around 1800, a German physician named Franz Joseph Gall developed a “science” called Phrenology.

Crazy old Franz felt you could positively identify a person’s personality traits by “reading” the crevices and lumps and bumps on their skulls. (Today, Franz would be working in the web analytics business. But, I digress.)

The point of all this is that marketers ping-pong between believing in magic and believing in science.

We love magic. We’ve found the transcendent creative idea! We’ve tapped into a deep emotional reservoir! Everyone’s falling in love with our brand!

But by definition, magic is rare and special. It’s not an everyday thing. What do we do if we need to make our numbers every day?

That’s why we love science. The brilliant analysis! The hiddden data! That moment when we learn that not only is there light at the end of the tunnel, it’s coming from a rainbow and a gigantic pot of gold!

But that too is a rare occurrance. If we’re honest, most of the time it’s just a jumble of confusing numbers. Data, data everywhere, but not an idea to think.

Paul Barsch has sparked a good conversation about this over at Marketing Profs Daily Fix. No matter which side you favor — science or emotion — you’ll find something interesting to think about.

More good reads:

As for me? I believe in balance but if I had to choose, I believe more in magic than in science. Data can tell us a lot, but it can’t tell us everything. In the end — for better and for worse, we’re humans, not computers. I’ll bet the Zune had far more market research than the iPhone, and look at their results.

In its own way, science is as seductive as magic. We love the illusion that if we had all the data, we’d have all the answers.

Phrenology was a science once, too. Until we learned that the bumps on our heads we were feeling were the result of banging our heads against the wall.