“I can’t stand being wrong”

I’ve been talking a lot lately about a new way to think about marketing—”do it wrong quickly,” where you allow yourself the latitude of thinking of everything you do in online marketing as an experiment. You try it, see how customers respond, and then adjust. Well, some folks tell me that they just “can’t stand” being wrong—or can’t stand admitting they are wrong. How can they overcome their feelings and become more adaptable?


First, if you feel that way, you should know that you’re not alone. No one relishes admitting they screwed up, but some people do seem to have an easier time with it than others. What makes those people different from the rest of us?
It might be merely a question of attitude. Some people approach life as a series of experiments—each one designed to learn a little more so that the next decision is better. Develop your playful side and think about what you’re doing the same way you’d approach a guessing game.
If you break out a crossword puzzle, do you expect yourself to read the clues and fill in every last letter? Of course not. You know that you’ll figure out some of them right away, but many of them require you to take a guess. You try filling in a word for “1 across” and see if the words for “1 down” and “2 down” and “3 down” seem to fit with the word you guessed. Doing the puzzle in pencil lets you erase guesses that did not pan out and try again.
The difference between crossword puzzles and Internet marketing is that crossword puzzles are far easier. A few people can whip out a pen and methodically fill in a crossword puzzle in just a few minutes. In contrast, nobody can solve the Internet marketing puzzle in one try—it is truly a case of trial and error.
If you expect to conduct thousands of trials with no error, that’s crazy. Instead, you need to play the game. You need to take guesses and see what customers do. They’ll tell you what is working and what should change. If it bothers you to think of yourself as being wrong, than just treat every decision as a guess. By the time you draw a conclusion (many experiments later), you’ll most definitely have it right.
But maybe some of you are still resisting “doing it wrong quickly”—preferring the old, slow consensus way sometimes cynically described as “often in error, but never in doubt.” In contrast, “do it wrong quickly” says that you are always in error and always in doubt—you know you’re wrong. There’s no doubt about that.
Marketing ain’t rocket science, but maybe we need a rocket scientist to set us straight. Werner von Braun once remarked that “Research is what I’m doing when I don’t know what I’m doing.” Maybe we can take the same approach to what we marketers do every day. After all, Internet marketing ain’t rocket science.
Even when you understand the “do it wrong quickly” concept in your rational mind, you still might feel more comfortable searching for a best practice. The problem is that when things are changing as fast as they are in interactive marketing, no one knows what the best practices are yet. That unheralded Internet marketing expert Will Rogers summed it up when he said, “It isn’t what we don’t know that gives us trouble, it’s what we know that ain’t so.”
If Werner von Braun can admit he doesn’t always know what he’s doing, so can you. Just call it research.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in digital marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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