The Future Will Be Won By Marketers With Balls

{With apologies to my many sister marketers. I also mean ovum.}

This past Sunday the New York Times ran a Sunday Review piece titled Can Social Media Sell Soap? I don’t know if it can sell soap, but it can sell pants.

So, this is an anecdote. And I’m aware that the plural of anecdote is not data. But that is sort of my point.

I’m friends with Ann Taylor on Facebook. Truthfully I’m not even a 100% sure why. I do like Ann and have a lot of their clothes, but I don’t usually friend brands. Anyway, the Ann feed is what it is — pictures of stuff. They don’t post so often that it’s annoying and since I am generally a fan I don’t mind having the posts in my feed. (Ironically the posts where they try to be “social” are the ones that usually annoy me. We aren’t *actually* friends Ann. Knock it off.)

One day I’m scrolling through my feed and I see a post from Ann Taylor with a fabulous pair of black and white print, cropped pants. My immediate thought was “Oh my god, I must have those pants.” So what did I do? I didn’t post, I didn’t comment, I didn’t “like” it. I went that weekend to my local Ann Taylor, tried on the pants and bought the pants. And no, I’m sorry, but I did not post a note to all my friends saying “Hey, I just bought these pants.”

I bought the pants because of Facebook. It’s unlikely I would have gone to the store that weekend unprompted, although I sometimes do. Even if I had, the pants were way more compelling styled on the model than they were hanging on the rack. Not 100% sure I would have noticed them in the store. Facebook sold me pants.

Here’s the problem: No one at Facebook or at Ann Taylor knows that Facebook sold me pants. Maybe, maybe, maybe if the folks at Ann Taylor are super-sophisticated they can see that sales of those particular pants went up in the days following the post. Even then there is some skeptical C-person saying “Yes, but how do you *know* the post caused the spike in pants sales?” They can’t prove it.

The reason I think the future will be won by marketers with balls (and ovum) is because some things can’t be measured and they never, ever, ever will be measurable. But in a world drowning in data, the pressure to prove your theories will be intense. Don’t get me wrong — I love data. I love using data to make smarter decisions. But it doesn’t answer every question. Sometimes you need to take a leap of faith. Sometimes you need to just believe that putting your message in front of some significant number of people on a regular basis induces those people to take some action. That some number of those Facebook friends bought the pants. (And a cute top to go with them. Did I mention that?)

The real problem, I fear, is that in a world of “data-driven” marketing, marketing starts to become really restricted. Marketers focus on only implementing strategies and tactics that can be measured. The might win some, they might lose some, but they can show a quantity. “I did this, we got this. I will do this more. I will do that less.” The strategies that can’t be measured get abandoned or at least so poorly funded as to be meaningless.

So the future will be won by the ones who can take a risk. Who can take that leap of faith and do the thing that they know is making a difference even when they can’t definitively, beyond-a-shadow-of-doubt prove that it made the difference. They will be using data. Tons of it. They just won’t be so chained to it that they can’t see the opportunities that lie just beyond the reach of the spreadsheet.

2 thoughts on “The Future Will Be Won By Marketers With Balls”

  1. Thanks for this Tami, I need to be reminded that people don’t double back to provide data or anecdotal evidence that social media exposure played a part in their decisions.

    p.s. Happy New Year!

    1. Julia — Measuring the impact of any kind of marketing is so tough. And it’s tough for a complicated set of reasons — some metrics are available but hard to get, some metrics are easy to get but not useful, and some metrics are just impossible to get. I think this is going to be interesting to watch, as some metrics become easier to access, but others become more elusive.

      Happy New Year to you too!

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