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A truly great marketer is capable of admitting that they’re dead wrong sometimes

I’m reading a fascinating book on the evolution of math and statistics over the past 100 years, and its impact on the scientific method of inquiry. This particular passage really caught my eye:

“A scientific career is peculiar in some ways. Its reason d’etre is the increase of natural knowledge. Occasionally, therefore, an increase of natural knowledge occurs. But this is tactless, and feelings are hurt. For in some small degree it is inevitable that views previously expounded are shown to be either obsolete or false. Most people, I think, can recognize this and take it in good part if what they have been teaching for ten years or so comes to need a little revision; but some undoubtedly take it hard, as a blow to their amour propre, or even as an invasion of the territory they have come to think of as exclusively their own, and they must react with the same ferocity as we can see in the robins and chaffinches these spring days when they resent an intrusion into their little territories. I do not think anything can be done about it. It is inherent in the nature of our profession…”

Make no mistake about it. Marketing, and digital marketing in particular, is a science (or at least it should be). And we are all – including me – subject to the type of folly outlined in Ronald A. Fisher’s aforementioned quote.

Keep this top of mind in your day to day. It will help you avoid falling into the trap of believing that your years of experience and measurable ROI have somehow inoculated you from being wrong at least some of the time. It will also help remind you to constantly question even your most cherished conclusions.

This is crucial, because the coming years will bring about a literal avalanche of data-driven marketing methodology that will likely falsify many of the “best practices” that many of us have leaned on for years.

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  • Rudy Saldivar

    Hi Hugo- Really love the last sentence about “Data-driven marketing methodology”…I would add that the coming years are now. The front page story of the Harvard Business Review October 2012 issue (ihttp://hbr.org) is on Big Data. One highlight they mention as a future challenge is “the shortage of data scientists is becoming a serious constraint in some sectors” . Thanks, Rudy Saldivar

    • hugoguzman

      Thanks for swinging by to chime in, Rudy! I couldn’t agree more, which is why I’m in the early stages of pursuing a degree in applied mathematics. It’s data science or bust for me.

  • LJB

    I also wonder if this has to do with the perception that
    numbers are always right? Well I do agree with a quantitative approach, we also
    cannot factor out qualitative data either. It allows us to put our hard numbers
    into perspective and question “what have I missed” or “what would happen if I
    tried this”. I think most of us (not just mathematicians) sometimes forget this
    when they are trying prove a theory/assumption/point. “Anyone who has
    never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” Albert Einstein.

    • hugoguzman

      Thanks for chiming in, LJB! That’s an interesting take, though I would argue that in my experience, there’s precious little quantitative analysis going on and way to much subjective opinion masquerading as qualitative analysis. That said, regardless of which approach to analysis (quantitative vs. qualitative) the end result should be to acknowledge when an idea has been falsified and move on with the next round of hypothesis. That’s how true marketing knowledge is acquired.

      • LJB

        As we know quantitative and qualitative approaches have been, and still are, being fiercely debated in academic circles. But I would absolutely agree that marketers can’t often “show them the numbers” and this can influence a companies decision on whether or not they should proceed with a new idea/concept.

        It just has been my experience that people sometimes rely to heavily on either and miss out on some great opportunities. Each camp should complement the other. Checks and balances..

        • hugoguzman

          I think that you’re right as it relates to academic circles, but you may not realize how far ahead of the curve you are in terms of mainstream marketing. Most aren’t even thinking in terms of qualitative or quantitative data analysis. They’re still living in the age of Madmen and making decisions on gut feelings, anecdotal non-evidence, and subjective opinion.

  • http://twitter.com/neyne Branko Rihtman

    Hey Hugo

    This is easily one of my top 5 favorite things about science. Richard Dawkins keeps telling this story about an old and respected scientist who taught for years that Golgi apparattus in a cell was not a real thing, until he was proven wrong. He thanked to the person who proved him wrong from the bottom of his heart for fixing his mistake of 15 years.


    Another good story was in Slate recently (don’t remember who shared it on twitter, apologize if it was you):

    As you know, i have recently returned to the academia and I have to admit that the pursuit of objectivity, self criticism and seeing through bullshit and wishful thinking are truly refreshing, as opposed to the world of marketing.

    • hugoguzman

      Love that Dawkins story as well as that Slate piece! I may someday join you in the ranks of academia, but in the meantime, I’m doing my part to bring more scientific rigor (and humility) to this marketing thing of ours. Thanks for swinging by, Branko!