4 Anti-Science Marketing Attitudes That Keep Us In The Stone Ages

Are we hiding from scientific marketing? Are we hiding from science?

As I write this, we have all let our breath out having learned the outcome of a presidential election and countless congressional races. Now that the task of getting elected is behind us, it is time to examine a bastion of political debate: bashing science.

Shawn Lawrence Otto writing in Scientific American (“America’s Science Problem,” November 2012) says that each of the political parties “…demands ideological conformity, even when contradicted by scientific evidence.”

I see evidence that we are doing the same in our online marketing organizations.

To an extent, the search engine marketers among us are the scientists of the Web. Ads are dismissed if they don’t generate clicks. Keywords are retired if they don’t generate searches. Campaigns are stopped if the cost of a click gets too high.

In short, decisions are made based on data.

In the online marketing world, however, things feel a bit more medieval. Myth, superstition, and the endless pursuit of cool seem to guide key online decisions. Despite the existence of amazing tools, there is an anti-science sentiment among marketers.

Like our political world, there is an attack on marketing science, and this is hurting our overall online productivity.

Cell Phones Cause Brain Cancer

Fears about our products hurting us are born from a strong distrust of corporations. However, some simple high school physics will demonstrate why cell phones cannot cause cancer.

In marketing, these are the people who have a distrust of data. Many haven’t even put any measurement software on their websites. The thinking goes like this: if I don’t know the truth, I don’t have to deal with it.

These folks are falling away quickly as inexpensive analytics software is installed across the Web. However, they are being replaced by a new denialist that says, if I don’t understand it, I don’t have to deal with it.

These marketers have the tools installed, but they don’t use the information to their advantage. They distrust anything they don’t understand.

This is not a training issue as much as a confidence issue. Just because you’re not a statistics major doesn’t mean you can’t grasp analytics concepts. And if you are to believe smart people like Scott Brinker, marketers’ jobs will depend on their ability to use and apply marketing tech.

The Theory Of Creation

At the risk of insulting those of you with strong faith, I offer this view from the scientific community: there is no theory of creation that competes with the theory of evolution.

Likewise, the theory that a website is created by a single act of divine intervention is equally misguided. A website is created through evolution.

Every change is an experiment.

For each new ad group, for each new article, for each new design change — there are two important questions to ask:

  1. What effect will this have on my business?
  2. How will I know what impact it has had on my business?

The first question establishes a hypothesis. The second establishes a key performance indicator that can be tied to your analytics software.

These are the two key components of the scientific method applied to marketing. Applied over time, this process will guide the site to higher and higher performance. It will evolve to a higher and more profitable being.

Vaccines Cause Autism

When we rely on mean-spirited logic that tapes kick-me signs on the backs of cause and effect, we draw the wrong conclusions from the right information. In order to defeat laws requiring vaccinations, it was put forth that, “Some people who have autism were given vaccinations; therefore, everyone who gets a vaccination is at risk of getting autism.”

The error at the heart of this is that if A follows B, then B caused A.

A classic case of this is the assumption that the things our competitors are doing online are the things making them successful. This is often not the truth.

We don’t know if they tested their sites at all. We don’t know if their fancy new site increased or decreased sales. In short, we don’t know anything.

And if your competitors are anti-science, they don’t know anything, either.

Take your competitors’ best ideas as hypotheses, try them, and measure the results. Of course, this requires that you embrace science. But imagine finding out that something they are doing is working against them. Isn’t that juicy little secret worth a test or two?

Global Warming Is A Hoax

Perhaps the most nefarious of the denialists are those that actively campaign against the science because it doesn’t support their agenda. There is no longer any debate in the scientific community that global warming is happening. There is no debate about the role of the human race in advancing it. Yet, a campaign against it has allowed PR to trump scientific consensus.

In marketing, Avinash Kaushik labeled the person responsible for such a campaign the HiPPO, or the “Highest Paid Person in the Organization.” Decisions made for political gain, for expediency, or through raw ego, leave teams to implement marketing programs based on gut or instinct.

The stories used to ignore or debunk marketing data include:

  1. Everybody else is doing it.
  2. It’s not “on brand.”
  3. I wouldn’t respond to that!
  4. It’s not creative enough.
  5. Give visitors the facts and they’ll figure the rest out.
  6. We sell to everyone!

In short, data will not easily overcome these active campaigns of misinformation.

In some cases, you can say, “Great idea. We’ll add that to our test list.” That implies that you have a test list, which implies that you are testing, which implies that you are making decisions based on data and science.

And if you are, you may have wasted your time reading this.

Tell me in the comments about the anti-science beliefs have you seen. How did you overcome them?

Photo courtesy mindfreak

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Analytics | Search & Conversion

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About The Author: is the Conversion Scientist at Conversion Sciences and author of Your Customer Creation Equation: Unexpected Website Forumulas of The Conversion Scientist. Follow Brian at The Conversion Scientist blog and on Twitter @bmassey

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn



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  • http://twitter.com/tedives Ted Ives

    Sorry, but…

    1.) 31,487 American scientists with 9,029 Ph.D’s say there is absolutely a debate about the role of the human race in advancing Global Warming. The best information I’ve seen is that it is indeed warming, but Ice Cores indicate it’s changes in the Sun, not Carbon levels, that are responsible:
    http://www.petitionproject.org/

    2.) Isaac Newton, inventor of Calculus, is credited by many with codifying the modern scientific method, and he was a creationist.

    3.) The Autism controversy is more about mercury than it is about vaccines. My recollection is there were one or more studies done showing that autistic kids have less mercury in their hair – because their bodies less capable of excreting it.

    4.) I don’t know about Cell Phones but I do know it’s extremely difficult to prove a negative.

    However, back to the actual point of your article…I do agree strongly with your point about not assuming your competitors know what they’re doing. A great example is, (I think it’s) Aaron Wall who has said on occasion that you should worry not about the thousands of places your competitor has gotten a link from but rather the trillion they haven’t.

  • robthespy
  • http://conversionscientist.com Brian Massey

    Ted, thanks for doing the necessary work of weighing in on the other side of these issues. And thanks for bringing it home to a marketing conclusion.

  • http://conversionscientist.com Brian Massey

    Rob, I suspect you meant to put something different here… or is this a spy tactic?

  • Robert Meinke

    I hate to risk starting a flamewar, but ignorance and misinformation cannot stand unopposed.

    1) 31,487 American scientists who are not climatologists and are therefore completely unqualified to properly evaluate the evidence regarding anthropogenic climate change are ignorant of the consensus among actual climatologists.

    2) This is a completely meaningless statement. Aristotle was a geocentrist – so what?

    3) Meh.

    4) Cell phones emit non-ionizing radiation (like radio waves, microwaves, etc.) rather than ionizing radiation (like UV, X-rays, gamma rays). In the absence of a plausible cancer-causing mechanism, the default position is that cell phones do not cause cancer. The burden of evidence lies upon those claiming it does.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=694081240 John Matthew Braithwaite

    The irony over your point about the ‘creation’ debate is that this blog is created, edited and optimised by you… a sentient being. So you’re actually proving the opposite! It is not accidental, it does not create itself, it is created by YOU *(arguably created in God’s image)

  • http://conversionscientist.com Brian Massey

    Robert, you have to admit that the point about back links is interesting.

  • http://conversionscientist.com Brian Massey

    The universe may well have been created by God. My only assertion is that, among scientists who bother with such things, there is no theory of creation that is being researched as an alternative. Likewise, those of us in the marketing technology biz don’t discuss websites that are instantly complete. We are moving on with the preponderance of evidence that an evolving website is the way to go.

  • http://twitter.com/liamhgfisher Liam Fisher

    It’s very hard to disagree with you that we need to take a more empirically grounded approach to everything we do. The ties between issues in science and their implications for marketing folk feel a little tenuous, though, and may detract from your points.

    On a more off-topic note, it’s true that there is absolutely no debate that climate change is happening. There absolutely is a debate, though, about whether it’s human driven or not. The only way the matter could be conclusively decided is if you could demonstrate that the link between human-driven carbon emissions and climate change is, definitively, one of causation and not correlation. And, as scientifically minded people, we know how hard (if possible at all) that is. Point is, the debate is redundant, since the only rational path is to treat climate change as though it were human driven, since being wrong about that would have an irrevocable impact.

  • robthespy
  • http://www.rimmkaufman.com/ George Michie

    Terrific piece, Brian. As with Global Warming, people are using the complexity of attribution and cross device behavior to justify the anti-scientific approach to marketing. “See how complex this is? It’s too complicated, you can’t trust the numbers you see, just close your eyes and spend more…”

    My response to that is generally: Yes, it’s complex, let’s wade in and try to figure it out. If we get it right the P&L should look better. That ultimate metric will eventually foil the anti-science crowd.

  • http://conversionscientist.com Brian Massey

    One of our favorite sayings is “Accounting will tell you how your website is doing.” Thanks for the comment.

  • http://conversionscientist.com Brian Massey

    You are correct, and we will fix that now.

  • Pat Grady

    Many store owners and operators, the ones closest to the conversion “science”, and its outcomes and inputs, and who also have the most vested interest, know very little about attribution, and make horrid causation conclusions all the time – many of them common ones, though they were not drawn synchronously or collaboratively. Might want to leave yourself some wiggle room on the climatologists.

  • Robert Meinke

    Individual scientists and store owners may be wrong from time to time, but if 99 out of 100 experts look at the same data and reach the same conclusion, there’s little need for “wiggle room” in asserting the validity of that conclusion.

  • Ephraim7

    The correct opposing view to the evolution theory, is the “Observations of Moses”. This is not the first time you have been told this. Why is it that you choose to ignore it?
    Current Creationism is rubbish, and misrepresents the Genesis text.
    I now ask why is it that evolutionists fail to allow a comparsion between what the correct rendition of Genesis teaches, and the secular theories of science? From now on, don’t even waste your time talking about creationism, but rather examine the “Observations of Moses”.
    Herman Cummings
    ephraim7@aol.com

  • http://twitter.com/double_see_dee Travis

    Issac Newton was also an alchemist and occultist. You don’t even have to go beyond the example he himself gave to see why it’s foolish.

  • http://conversionscientist.com Brian Massey

    In an effort to turn this ship, let’s take Ted’s link. What logic errors do we see at work here? http://petitionproject.com/

    I see the “Give the user the information and let them figure it out” error. Really, what do you want me to do here? Help me decide.

    At the risk of sounding snarky, there is a cause and effect error here, too. It’s the “This style website worked in the 90s, therefore it will work today.” ;-)

    Extra credit: What logic error did I make with the above snarky comment?

  • http://conversionscientist.com Brian Massey

    Alchemist? Does that make him one of the original Conversion Scientists? ;-)

  • http://twitter.com/mickeyc84 Michael Curtis

    Interesting (and true) article, and I agree that being lacking confidence in handling datasets is definitely a weakness. But, I also think there is a valid argument against a purely data-driven approach and its a little unfair to equate people who have a creative approach to marketing with the sort of Grade A Moron who denies climate change.

    The problem with over-reliance on data is that it always leads to a race to appeal to the lowest common denominator. If 51% of people think something is great and 49% think something is horrible, every data-driven approach will tell you do the thing that appeals to the bigger number. Fine, but that same data will be telling everyone else to do that as well. The result is a sea of homogenised, bland mush that consumers inevitably complain about and eventually rebel against. Don’t we have a duty, at least to ourselves, to put something out into the world that’s better than that?

    You can see it all the time in the world beyond marketing – for example, the endless slew of generic Dance-Pop, autotuned within an inch of its life that makes up the singles chart. Or, every time a Directors Cut of a movie is released because the studio changed the film to make it ‘test better’, only to discover that, actually the majority of people have no idea what a good film is and have absolutely no business having any sort of effect on the creative process. You can justify this crap with as many datapoints as you like – your resulting output is still crap.

    Data is also limited in its ability to forecast. Yes, it can identify the early stages of trends and help you hop onto a profitable bandwagon, but the real cash is in starting them, and it can’t help you there.

    Today’s tools gives us the ability to essentially ask thousands and thousands of people what they want, very quickly and easily. Take Personal Computers. 10 years ago every piece of data was clearly pointing towards advertising various sweetspots between performance and price depending on the class of machine – you can tell this by just by looking at the way Dell, HP et all marketed their products. Every advert was the specs and a price tag. Who ended up with the biggest market share? Um, the weird nearly-bankrupt company that ignored the data and trusted that people will overlook overpriced, then-incompatible hardware and the strange OS in the name of a shiny case and a pretty wallpaper. There’s not a single datapoint that would of suggested that would happen, it was all down to Job’s and Ive’s intuition.

    To quote Henry Ford quote “If I’d asked the people what they wanted, they would of asked me for a faster horse”.

    I’m not advocating a purely creative approach either – We’re marketers, not artists, and there’s a ton of cash to be made chasing trends. But when you look at the companies who really, really knock it out the park with their marketing, you’ll find plenty of elements in the mix that never would of come from data analysis. Data is a tool, one of many that a good marketer can use, but being a ‘Scientist of the Web’ doesn’t make you a good marketer, it makes you a good, well, scientist of the web.

  • robthespy

    Dinosaurs never existed!

  • http://conversionscientist.com Brian Massey

    Ren, every time we reach a conclusion about some aspect of our site, we uncover the nagging question “Why?” This is a question that requires human imagination, but the answers to “Why?” become our new quantitative hypotheses. We must imagine the possibilities before we can target the quantitative tests to be performed.

    Even scientists must have active right hemispheres.

  • http://conversionscientist.com Brian Massey

    Liam, your point is well taken, and I was (am) concerned that the device would detract from the content. However, this is one of the more interesting comment streams I’ve ever enjoyed here at SELand.

  • http://conversionscientist.com Brian Massey

    Michael, now this is a challenging counterpoint. Actually, I think your argument rests on some assumptions that I did not use when writing.

    First, I don;t believe in data vs. creativity. I’ve been in the online marketing business in a lot of roles, and my role as a Conversion Scientist has been the most creative of my career. Data has taken many an organization down the wrong path because of a lack of imagination.

    However, I disagree that Jobs and Ives relied on intuition and creativity. They studied aesthetic, design, architecture, color theory, Zen and more before they could create such successful products. They “tested” many different designs internally. It was a perfect storm of science and imagination.

    Second, I can’t analyze anyone’s data without a clear understanding of the ultimate goal. It is a rare occurrence that a good movie make a lot of money. So, movie execs must choose. If making money is their goal, making a mediocre movie is a perfectly good approach. If keeping good directors is their goal, then they are no longer serving the audience. They are optimizing for the directors.

    One more little nit: We don’t really “ask the people” what they want, as they would have in Henry Ford’s day. We watch them as they do their thing. The former is fraught with peril to Ford’s point. The latter is incredibly powerful behavioral insight.

    We can both agree on your conclusion. A good scientist of the Web does not a good marketer make. The point of my article is the opposite, however. A good marketer is going to have to be a good scientist of the Web.

    Thanks for taking the time to share this with us.

  • Pat Grady

    You said “There is no debate about the role of the human race in advancing it.”

    This does not sound “settled” to me:
    1) http://www.forbes.com/sites/larrybell/2012/07/17/that-scientific-global-warming-consensus-not/
    2) http://www.skepticalscience.com/sea-level-rise.htm

    Skepticism is a very critical piece of the scientific method, you seem to be arguing against it – that’s anti-science. And yes, skepticism in the face of clearly overwhelming evidence, is also anti science. To that end (I’d like to know if I’m behaving as a kook, or a healthy skeptic), please link me to your “99 out of 100 experts” data and conclusions that you are using to dismiss all skepticism regarding “There is no debate about the role of the human race in advancing it”.

  • treepodia

    Wow so many people missing the point here. Guys, Brian was using these things as analogies, no need to dissect it so hard.
    The most beautiful part of the article is about the hidden fallacy in reasoning. I see many people relying on say, social media, as a sole axis of their marketing instead of seeing it as it: a reinforcement tool.

 

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