I was reminded of this on a recent plane ride when my seat-mates were reading the latest James Patterson book, The Memory Keeper’s Daughter and You: On a Diet. I had my usual pile of books, including Playing the Quantum Field, The Female Brain, 50 Psychology Classics and Marketing in the In-Between: A Post Modern Turn on Madison Avenue.
If you’re not into quantum physics or neurology, no sweat. But I do think you’d be interested in Marketing in the In-Between by Len Ellis. You may know Len from his Click Z columns. Now, if you’re a fan of nice little business fables, this is NOT that type of book. Len has a Ph.D. from Columbia and reads informational and mathematical theory for fun. But I still found his writing very accessible. It’s also a quick read; a tiny paperback, less than 100 pages.
Policy makers at all levels, planners of all types, marketers in all categories use data about human affairs to inform their understanding, recommendations and decisions about the built environment in which we all must live … we are reduced to a set of features that are isolated from their contexts … as data becomes the dominant lens for understanding and acting on human affairs, it tends to crowd out [motivational forces].
Reliably predicting the frequency of a behavior in the aggregate cannot capture what moves the individual. That’s simply a limitation of the technique. Aggregating individuals balances out and thereby washes out everything particular or exceptional about any one of them. it yields a measure that can predict frequency at the aggregate level, although neither probability nor explanation at the individual level … washed out were all the factors – motive, volition, knowledge and intent – that might actually explain the individual instance of behavior.
The very process of creating data requires isolating a particular feature of a situation and discarding the larger context in which it is embedded.
In other words, data can tell you WHAT people are doing, but it does not tell you WHY they do what they do. Data doesn’t tell you the individual’s motive, volition, knowledge or intent. You also need to look at behavior in context in order to have a true understanding of what’s really going on.
So, we know what information/insight data can’t provide, but does that mean individual motive, volition, knowledge and intent can’t be measured? Not necessarily.
Every good science project starts with a theory (“This is what’s going to happen and why“). You carefully control the environment in which the experiment takes place, so you can understand the context. You then conduct the experiment and measure the results.
In Persuasion Architecture™, we start with customer personas, creating testable hypotheses as to why customers will take certain actions. Personas provide insight into motive, volition, knowledge and intent. Scenarios are then carefully planned so that context is taken into account; including angles of approach, so we can better understand what caused someone to first realize a need for your product or service, the background knowledge they bring to the table, and a clear sense of their other options. Once you’ve created persuasive scenarios as a predictive model of customer behavior, you can use web analytics to more accurately measure whether your hypotheses were correct. NOW you can measure how many visitors are going through your scenarios, how well those scenarios convert, and optimize your sales process to match how your customers wish to buy.
With this customer insight and context, you can generate far better results than by relying on data alone.
If you have an hour or two, be sure to pick up Marketing in the In-Between. Whether or not you’re a geek like me, it’s sure to give you some really important insights as we move forward in this new, data-driven age.