Why Looking in the Mirror Makes an Ass Out of U and Me

December 9th, 2010

Believing your customers are just like you – or homogenous in any way – is a psychological bear trap that is difficult for even the savviest marketer or executive to escape.

It’s human nature. We figure that since we like tennis, and we know a few of our customers that like tennis, it stands to reason that a sizable chunk of our customer base are tennis fans. But, it doesn’t stand to reason at all.

We let anecdotes guide our business decisions, even when we have the capability to prove our suppositions right or wrong.

This reliance on our marketing gut is often held up as evidence of wisdom and finely honed instinct. More often, I find it’s instead evidence that a broken clock is still right twice per day.

Here are some recent examples I’ve encountered where companies make social media and digital marketing decisions based on personal biases and beliefs, when the truth is both available and testable:

CEOs (especially B2B companies) assume that because they aren’t using social media, that their customers aren’t either. However, research from Forrester, Inc. finds that purchasers of B2B technology products and services actually use social media far more than the average American consumer.

Companies almost invariably fire out their Facebook status updates during the workday. However, research from ExactTarget and CoTweet (disclosure: both are clients) found that 65% of Facebook users do not log-in during the workday, but rather at night and on weekends.

Companies assume that consumers clicking the “like” button want to receive promotions and special offers from “liked” companies. Certainly, companies want that to be the case, as it helps them justify time and effort spent buying “likes” with coupons and contests. However, the ExactTarget/CoTweet research found that 70% of consumer do not believe that clicking “like” means “it’s okay to market to me”. Instead, the “like” is much more like a digital bumper sticker than it is an email opt-in.

Speaking of email, some businesses believe almost all of their subscribers are looking at their email via a mobile device. Other companies believe very few subscribers are using phones to check email. In a fascinating new research report from eROI, surveyed companies estimated that mobile email viewing ranged from 2% to 50% of subscribers. In reality, the average was 12%.

Even more interesting is that the percentage of subscribers reading email on a mobile device changes dramatically by time of day and day of week. Mobile email reading is much more prevalent at nights and on weekends, when we tend to be “out and about” (or in my case, on the couch watching football and drinking tequila with an iphone nearby). And of course, while the average was 12% the actual volume of emails consumed on a mobile device varies for each company.

Death to Averages

And that’s really the core of the problem. We either assume our customers behave as we do, or we assume our customers behave as other companies’ customers do. The first is the fallacy of the gut. The second is the fallacy of the case study. We can and should be better than that. This is DIGITAL marketing after all. Objective truth is obtainable, if you care enough to find it.

If you want to know how many of your email subscribers are on mobile, test it. (eROI used litmus.com for their study). Want to know how much you should update your Facebook page at night? Test it. Want to know whether your customers are using social media? Ask them (or use some ninja sleuthing).

The big advantage of digital marketing is that we don’t have to guess at the right answer. And if we continue to use the mirror instead of science to guide our decision-making, we’re taking that innate digital advantage and throwing it away.

(image by Shutterstock, a Convince & Convert sponsor)

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