Three massive flaws in marketing "best practices"

If you're in marketing, advertising or lead gen, you know that what moves the needle is understanding customer mindsets, not demographics. What makes customers tick? What do they fear? What motivates them? Winners of the Effie Awards all know how to tap into emotion. The most successful brands in the world know how to build companies on emotion. Best practices, developed over decades, have told us exactly how to do it. 

The problems with "best practices"

Conventional wisdom dictates that this kind of psychographic insight requires months of up-front research and strategy work before launching a campaign to guarantee effectiveness. Building qualitative discussion guides from scratch, and then (even better!) convincing the client to spend 5-7 figures on a quantitative research project. And only then do you have the insights to create a creative brief and execute. For 25 years I served as an account planner, brand strategist, and management consultant; I've learned, practiced and taught these best practices while conveniently ignoring the problems, which include: 

  1. It takes too long. Best practices were born decades ago, back when there was more time to do everything. Clients weren't demanding results yesterday. Society and business has sped up considerably, and our practices need to evolve with the times.  
  2. It's not accessible to smaller firms. Most companies don't have (or want to spend) the money to do a 6-figure segmentation project. So you rely on existing customer knowledge (often lacking psychographic insights) or conduct a few interviews to make sure you're directionally on target. Or -- as I've heard from many of you -- you throw stuff against a wall to see what sticks.
  3. What customers say does not equal what they do. Now, this feels weird for me to write this. I mean, I've been doing research-based strategy work for decades. But the fact is, no matter how well-done the research, at the end of the day it's only directionally predictive of future success. And if you don't ask exactly the right questions, you'll miss the mark without even knowing it. Only actual behavior can be a better predictor of what's going to generate leads and new customers. 

Best practices were born decades ago before concepts like Agile and digital were a glimmer in some inventors' eyes. They're outdated. And, while still helpful, they aren't absolutely necessary. 

What's needed is a more agile approach to insights, allowing you to create hypotheses based on proven human nature and then testing those hypotheses with behavior (ie. clicks). The key here is "proven human nature." If you're guessing in a vacuum, you are likely to miss the crucial insight that is needed to capture attention and interest.

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