Nobody Knows Anything

There are two kinds of marketing analysis, both pretty useless.

The first kind is done before the fact. This is when you and your team (and your advisors and your mother in law) weigh in about whether your ad, your product, your uniforms and your logo are any good. Call it ‘analyzing tomorrow’.

Analyzing tomorrow is a sort of analysis is filled with superstition, unsupported opinion, half-truths and most of all, fear. Fear of being wrong, fear of challenging the status quo, fear of going out on a limb. Fear of wasting money, fear of criticism and fear of the market.

Analyzing tomorrow is the province of consultants and pundits. People who predict what will work and what won’t, and are eager to tell you what you must do (and not do).

The other kind, of course, is called ‘analyzing yesterday.’ Analyzing yesterday is 20/20 hindsight. It involves finding threads of ‘tomorrow’ analysis and hooking them up to things that appear to have worked. Using yesterday analysis, I can easily explain the success of Starbucks and Apple and Nike and Google, and of course make it really clear why Friendster didn’t become Myspace.

Except, of course, I’d be lying.

The great thing about science, about proven fields like physics and evolution and chemistry, is that science works. A physicist is never going to be wrong about her prediction of what a spaceship on the other side of the moon is going to do. And when ten chemists analyze why a formula failed, all of them will give you the same (correct) answer.

Marketing, then, is not science.

Sure, there are principles. Trends, even. That’s why reading my stuff isn’t a total waste of time (I hope). The idea, though, that you can accurately analyze tomorrow just because some marketer did a good of describing yesterday is nonsense.

A nice side effect of the gurucomplex is that sometimes reading a marketing tract can give you the confidence to do what you knew was the right thing anyway. And sometimes listening to a marketing pundit can spark an idea that leads to a real breakthrough.

Here’s the really good news: in addition to analysis, marketing today offers something that actually works: a process.

The successful marketing process will always get you better results than the alternatives. The successful marketing process is not dependent on an historical analysis of what your competition did that worked, but is a truly powerful way to figure out what to do next. I think most marketing breakthroughs come down, sooner or later, to luck. But just as a gambler in Vegas can improve his luck, so can you.