Stop Guessing! Find The Right Answer Instead

Catherine M. Rooney with her 6th grade class, 1943.

Previously on this blog, I’ve written about determining if you have an online marketing strategy and how focused it is, setting business goals as a part of that strategy, and being clear what key performance indicators would measure progress to those goals. I’ve even touched on doing experiments to increase effectiveness. All along, I’ve been saying this stuff is important and lead your small business to greater success online. What I’d like to do here is show how these things interconnect. In a nutshell: they help you stop guessing.

Why should I stop guessing about marketing?

The first question we should get out of the way is maybe, “What do you mean by ‘guessing’?”  Many entrepreneurs and small business owners that I’ve talked to over the roughly 15 years I’ve been coaching do this thing where, in areas they’re not highly skilled, they latch onto the first idea that occurs to them.  I sometimes tell the story of a client who decided to use Twitter to market her product.  When I asked why social media, and Twitter in particular, she explained that she wouldn’t be overwhelmed by writing 140 characters.  No mention of whether or not her target market was on Twitter, or if it was a good format for getting across her marketing message, or what business benefit she hoped to get out of it.

That’s what I call “guessing.”

She didn’t have any business-based reason for doing what she was doing.  She didn’t have information supporting the decision, and she wasn’t even going about collecting data to see if the decision made sense.  She just picked something and went with it.  Granted, she did have “reasons”—her own convenience, mainly—but that’s not what makes business success.

In contrast, I often say I love Google+ for marketing.  If someone asked me why, I’d say, “Because although it’s not my #1 source of website traffic or even my top source of traffic from social media, it is by far where the most likely buyers come from for my business.  It’s also where the most social media interaction happens (total and per-follower), as well as exposure-per-follower.”  And I could go into how important interaction and exposure are as it relates to reaching my target market, since small business owners and entrepreneurs are more likely to strike out on their own rather than clustering into groups like some markets.  See how that’s a different kind of answer to “why are you using that particular social media site”?

It may go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway just in case: just because you like doing something, or even do something well, doesn’t mean that’s automatically a ticket to success.

To answer the question in the header of this section, then, you should stop guessing about your online marketing because it’s not consistent or methodical; it’s a poor, haphazard way of making progress to the successes you’d like to achieve.

So take a moment and think about each of the marketing things you do and ask yourself why you chose those things.  Can you show measurable data to “prove” that you’re making the right choices?  Can you tie those choices to your business goals?  If you can’t approximate an answer like I gave for Google+ above, then you’re probably “guessing” about your marketing, and therefore probably doing things that aren’t as effective as they could be.

Is there any role for guessing?

Actually there is.  It’s at the very beginning of any of those parts mentioned earlier.  When you’re trying to figure out what your business goals are, you’ll be guessing.  When you’re setting up your first strategy document, you’ll be guessing.  But the most important and consistent place you’ll be guessing is at the beginning of any experiment.

Let’s say that you have your web designer make a site for you.  Every choice made by your designer is a guess.  They aren’t going to know what placements or color choices or photos are going to make your website a perfect engine of business.  Now, they’ll probably make something that looks pretty good, and that in itself will help retain visitors who are sensitive to that kind of thing.

But that’s just the beginning point.  From there you can begin running experiments to see if the red button, or the green button, or the blue button gets more clicks.  Or if the photo with the product by itself, or the one being held by a person, increases purchases for that product.

In other words, you start with a guess, then you refine and collect information until what you’re doing is no longer a guess, but a honed plan backed up by data.

Data is more crucial than you think.

I know it’s overwhelming or scary to a lot of new entrepreneurs, and you don’t need something else on your plate.  But I really want to urge you to look at the importance of data in what you do in your business, even if the business is just you…maybe even just you when you’re not at your day job.  Data is still crucial.

I recently saw an interview with Eileen Burbidge, business advisor to UK Prime Minister David Cameron and to the mayor of London.  Before she was in the UK, she worked at little businesses like Apple, Sun Microsystems, Skype, and Yahoo.  What struck me was this quote:

Lots of traditional industries started by doing digital as part of their customer engagement, advertising and brand, but now they are having to think about how it will transform their businesses, their core propositions. It’s like changing the engines on an airliner while it’s mid-air. It really is the second industrial revolution, it is on that scale.

Or think of it another way:  The term “digital native” refers to people who grew up with the Internet.  They’ve never known a time when they couldn’t get online.  The dividing line for this is often given as people who were born in 1980 or later.  In other words, as I write this at the end of 2015, anyone under the age of 35 is a digital native.  We’re in reach of two full generations that expect to be able to do things digitally.

Demographically speaking, the digital natives are very close to 50% of the US population.  (Worldwide, we’ve already passed 50%.)  Of course, every passing year just makes that number grow.

Therefore, using the Internet well is, as Eileen Burbidge put it, on the scale of the industrial revolution.  And the currency of the Internet is data.

Business used to be about making shrewd guesses and following hunches because it was just too cumbersome to collect and crunch the data needed to make well-informed decisions unless you were one of the big guys.

Those days are gone.

Even if you’re a part-time business owner, you have more access to more accurate data at your fingertips—much of it for free, no less—than any business but the giants ever did before.

There’s no excuse not to be using it.  In fact, if you’re not using it, you’re falling behind.  I really can’t think of a nicer way to say it.  So stop guessing.

Instead, start knowing.

Image source:  U.S. National Archives

Posted by Michael J. Coffey  |  0 Comment  |  in Goals, Strategy, and Planning

About Michael J. Coffey

Michael started learning about online marketing as the web store manager for a scrappy little game retailer during the "dot com bubble" of the 1990s. Since then he's helped fitness companies, tea wholesalers and retailers, lawyers, clothing designers, restaurateurs, and entrepreneurs in many other fields. In his spare time he drinks very high quality tea, writes letters with a fountain pen, and reads literature.

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