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The Problem with Assumptions


The federal government recently dropped the bombshell that the “effectiveness of flossing had never been researched.”

Never… been… researched? You’re telling me that despite dentists brow-beating us for decades about the benefits of flossing, there was never any conclusive empirical evidence?

For years, we’ve been following this belief that flossing our teeth was essential for good oral health. What a scam. Yet, despite the country lamenting our collective time wasted over the bathroom sink, there’s a bigger moral to the story — how many other things are you unknowingly wrong about?

This question should bother you.

Before the rise of technology, there were a lot of things we didn’t have the means to test, or test well. We certainly had no means of capturing or analyzing vast amounts of data. Now we do. Yet, both at home and at work, we still act on incomplete and anecdotal information. We make tons of assumptions and believe things that, when studied, turn out to be false.  

Do marketers know what their customers want? 

I came across a blog post recently that said, in essence, that algorithms are smarter than people when it comes to understanding customers and prospects. Which is becoming true.

In advertising and marketing, it’s easy to make assumptions. We make customer profiles and create campaigns based on assumptions that don’t hold up under scrutiny.

You know the adage, ‘Don’t ask questions you don’t want answers to’? Marketers do. They still struggle when asked questions like, “Why are we spending money to send high-end mailers to this prospect instead of that prospect? Often times our answer doesn’t have any more validity than why we floss our teeth.

Sometimes it’s scary to face facts. Facebook’s biggest ad spender, Proctor & Gamble, cut their ad spend because it wasn’t effective.

Meanwhile, the Association of National Advertisers’ (ANA) 2016 breakout report described rebates and other non-transparent business practices in the media ad-buying ecosystem as “pervasive.” As a result, the organization is recommending marketers audit their agencies to determine if they are, in fact, getting the full value of the products and services they agreed upon. The ANA is effectively saying, check your facts and don’t assume anything.

In the end, there will always be a place for making assumptions, but no place for failing to test them regularly.

That’s the real lesson of late even if you’ve heard it before, because we’re still making these mistakes. Whether you’re launching a large advertising campaign, trying to find the right prospects for a customer acquisition campaign, or flossing your teeth – you have to question what you know. Be flexible, curious and open to new information. Be skeptical, test and learn, and use data to examine and validate your assumptions, especially the things you know for sure. What you find might surprise you.

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