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What marketing and meteorology have in common
Scientists, hedge fund managers, analysts are respected, but weather forecasters are parodied. Yet weather forecasters have far fewer illusions about their ability to predict future events...
One of my favorite books on psychology and human behavior is The Invisible Gorilla: And Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us. You’re already familiar with the invisible gorilla experiment if you’ve watched the popular “awareness test” video that previously got passed around. If not, watch below to catch up (this video is essentially a clone of the original experiment the book title was based on).
The book of course isn’t just about the invisible gorilla experiment, authors (and cognitive psychologists) Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons share many compelling examples and well-sourced data points of how psychological illusions permeate our everyday lives. One such example that struck me as a digital marketer was from chapter 4, which discusses the illusion of knowledge and analyzed weather forecasters as an example. I made an immediate connection while reading how modern marketers and weather forecasters share striking similarities.
Some quick excerpts from the book illustrates this:
Meteorologists continually adjust their predictions – and the mathematical and statistical models and computer programs that generate those predictions – based on feedback from previous predictions.
Weather forecasting is unusual in that forecasters receive immediate and definitive feedback about their predictions. Like weather forecasters, when we receive appropriate feedback, we can sometimes calibrate our judgments and eliminate the illusion of knowledge.
Unfortunately, for most of the judgments that we make in our lives, we never receive the precise feedback that weather forecasters do of seeing the next morning weather we were right or wrong, day after day, year after year. This is an important difference between meteorology and fields like medicine. Information about the correctness of a diagnosis or the outcome of a surgical procedure is available in principle. It is rarely collected systematically, stored and analyzed the way data about the weather is.
Scientists, architects and hedge fund managers are respected, but weather forecasters are parodied. Yet weather forecasters have fewer illusions about their own knowledge than do members of these other professions.
So if you are a marketer, just like a weather forecaster:
You now have near real-time data on the quality of your ideas
You are given immediate and definitive feedback on the success of your actions through web analytics and monitoring tools – day after day, month after month, year after year
You should be using this data to make future decisions (literally called marketing forecasting!) and predict their outcomes, refining your approaches
The data is collected systematically, stored and analyzed in a meaningful way to see larger trends and sharpen your accuracy
Creating graphically-led visualizations to illustrate your points and tell stories
You are using sophisticated software that, while better every year, will always be imperfect, but gets you “close enough” to make good predictions/decisions
And yes, are also sometimes (but certainly not always) taken less seriously than finance or other areas of the business by your CEO (you should work on improving if there’s a false or undervalued perception of your craft)
Anyway, if you’re not doing the above items, you are not taking advantage of what’s available and are behind the curve of marketing and PR – all of this is now at your fingertips. In digital marketing, you are constantly making predictions, placing bets and getting data as an outcome, many cases in real time.
To illustrate the digital divide – marketers leveraging this vs. those who are not would be like comparing today’s meteorologists who leverage modern technology and data with one from 1920. Who would you hire?
Your marketing no longer has to be based purely on principles. The reality is you can’t make truly informed decisions until you get iterative and are constantly testing new ideas you predict will be effective based on past data. Then, as you move forward you use successes and failures to guide decisions and get progressively more accurate.
This is exactly why if you are a modern marketer and you aren’t experimenting and constantly getting feedback you will never be as effective as those who do. And you should not just be doing this with clients, or if you’re in house, with a brand. You need to be doing this independently with your own unique ideas if you hope to be on the level playing field with those at the edge.
As Chris and Dan point out in The Invisible Gorilla, meteorologists are in a unique position to consistently get feedback on their ideas and iteratively learn and improve. This is an extremely valuable position to be in. Marketers are also now in such a position – it’s a matter of whether they choose to take advantage of it or not.