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Drawing sweeping conclusions

I am a huge baseball fan. (Well, I am a Cubs fan, so some years they resemble a baseball team—any team can have a bad century.) I recall a baseball team’s general manager—the person responsible for choosing the players in the organization—who looked very successful because his team made the playoffs several times, but was actually crippling the organization in the long term. He continually traded his young up-and-coming players for stable veteran players. He got a temporary boost, but he was stunting the overall growth of the organization.


I call this kind of behavior, “eating your young.” But when animals do it, they are culling the breed of youngsters who won’t be able to make it. When we do it, we are sometimes trading the unknown for comfort.
It was far more comfortable for that GM to have veterans that he could count on for a certain level of performance than it would be to have rookies who you did not know what to expect from. The problem is those rookies had much bigger upside than the veterans, and that is how you win the World Series.
But it’s worse than that. Not only do we sometimes decide things for the wrong reasons (comfort vs. risk), but when it seems to work out (“Hey, we made the playoffs!”) then we conclude that it was the right decision. We humans tend to look very narrowly at what we decided and whether it “worked” when in fact we might have chosen the least successful idea out of our options. Perhaps all of our decisions would have looked like they “worked” but others would have worked better.
We can do the same thing in our marketing. When we have something successful, we tend to think that everything we did must be repeated, like it was some kind of magic formula. Usually, this is not the case. Some things we did were critically important and some were not—a few might have actively bad, but were overwhelmed by the smart things we did.
Also, we tend to see new situations as being similar to old ones, so we might apply our formula even when we shouldn’t. These are all basic human tendencies, so we shouldn’t feel bad that we suffer from them.
But we don’t need to be fatalistic about it. We can actively work against these impulses. We can seek to make our decisions more rationally, using better data, with more experimentation. We’ll never become purely rational in our decision making, but that wouldn’t be the best approach either.
Are you settling for repeating patterns that “worked” rather than trying something new that might work better? Are you choosing the comfortable rather than the risky? If you are, you need to know that eventually it’s gonna cost ya. Eventually you’ll lose out to someone willing to sacrifice comfort and break the pattern to profit from the new technique that beats the old ways.
And when that happens, don’t be surprised. Don’t tell everyone about how you are doing the same things you always did, so they should have worked this time, too. That’s the kind of sweeping conclusion that can only get you in trouble in a rapidly changing marketing world.

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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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