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Marketing is Tragically Knowable (Should I use Social Networks Like Facebook for Marketing?)

Posted by Bob Warfield on September 10, 2007

Marc Randolph, a good friend of mine, and the smartest marketer I know (co-founded NetFlix and was the original CEO) has a phrase about marketing that has always stuck with me.  We were in a big meeting discussing some marketing initiative or other, and we were getting the usual sad story about how a ton of money had been poured into some initiative and it hadn’t panned out.  Marc’s response was, “That’s a shame, because it was tragically knowable.”  What he meant was that the idea should have been tested on a small scale before the big bucks got spent on it.  It’s amazing how often big programs are rolled out on gut feel and the variety of “logical” reasons that are given for why you shouldn’t wait to test market.  Yet I’ve watched Marc build companies from scratch doing exactly that and doing it well.

I was reminded of the concept of Tragic Knowability while reading a blog post that asked whether you could do B2B marketing via a Social Network such as Facebook.  There was a lot of backing and forthing about whether the audiences would match and the usual kinds of yada yada that enter into these discussions.  The real answer is that these things are Tragically Knowable:  Put together a test program to learn the answer. 

Here’s one thought about a test program that costs almost nothing.  Pick a few Guinea Pigs who will donate their Outlook contact lists to the cause.  Pick a subset of their contacts so as not to rile anyone you think is at risk.  Pick a subset of Social Networks that you’d like to test.  Facebook and LinkedIn would be of interest to me, so I’ve already conducted the experiment.  Now use the facilities in the Network to send invites to everyone in the Contacts and see who responds and how they respond.  You’ll immediately get some data to start looking at.  Assuming it looks promising, ramp up slowly.  Create some trial presences on one or more of these Networks.  I like the model that got Blogs rolling in the Business World:

“I’m writing this blog, it isn’t really my job, anything I say here can’t be held against my employer, but here is what I think.”

In other words, put it in a skunkworks and don’t showcase it until you see how well its working and get it tuned up.  You will need some talented Evangelists to play this game, because they’ll need to be nimble, creative, and industrious to rub the metaphorical sticks together fast enough to start a fire.  Approaching it this way lets you learn a lot pretty quickly without risking very much.  Once you have the creative content assembled and the troops to get it out to the world on your chosen platforms (please try several and keep trying new ones all the time!), you need to establish a mechansim to take some metrics (the “knowing” part of Tragically Knowable).  For a quick walkthrough of how that works by a great marketer, take a look at Dave McClure’s Pirate Marketing post.

One of the other unique advantages to the approach is that it tends to foster trying a lot of things and not putting all your eggs into one basket.  The markets seem to be similar to the stock market, in that many marketing tactics often can quit working over time.  Perhaps you’ve heard the message or tired of the gimmick.  Or, as another smart fellow (this one a Sales Exec) I know once said, “If you want people to make a new decision, you had better give them some new information.”  There is also the issue that different messages work for different sub-audiences, particularly in a Web World where you may be trying to catch small herds of early adopters and fan their enthusiasm into mass market appeal.

Yup.  Many things are Tragically Knowable.  Thanks Marc!

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15 Responses to “Marketing is Tragically Knowable (Should I use Social Networks Like Facebook for Marketing?)”

  1. [...] about the second than the first.  I’m not sure why.  The second problem has always seemed Tragically Knowable to me.  Go talk to customers.  Show them a prototype.  It need not take a huge investment to [...]

  2. [...] on feature lists.  It requires lots of customer contact and testing.  Good user experience is tragically knowable.  User Experience requires a particular skill set.  Make sure you have people who’ve been [...]

  3. [...] The message here is not, “Ignore your customers.”  Rather, it’s to be suspicious of anecdotal evidence, and be aware that often the most vocal groups are really not very large.  It may still be valuable to support them from a PR standpoint, but don’t assume vocal is equivalent to large numbers.  Get some real market research done in order to find out.  These sorts of things are tragically knowable. [...]

  4. [...] than ever before.  Marketing is Tragically Knowable.  I will always remember that phrase from my mentor, and co-founder of Netflix, Marc Randolph.  Working through these kinds of metrics and conducting the A/B experiments to know what works [...]

  5. [...] than ever before.  Marketing is Tragically Knowable.  I will always remember that phrase from my mentor, and co-founder of Netflix, Marc Randolph.  Working through these kinds of metrics and conducting the A/B experiments to know what works [...]

  6. [...] One of my all-time favorite business anecdotes involves Marc Randolph telling an audience that failed to test a marketing program that went on to be a disaster that the end result could have been tragically knowable. [...]

  7. [...] (Marc Randolph, the guy that came up with the idea for Netflix) advice that all marketing is tragically knowable through testing.  But it really is amazing to go through the litany and see what works and what [...]

  8. [...] If we’re going to think about Marketing as a Product, then the concept of Minimum Viable Product makes a lot of sense for Marketers to think about as well.  MVP is all about the idea of not building in every possible feature and refinement.  It’s about building as little as possible to make a product that you can get in front of customers sooner, so you can learn from their feedback.  Doesn’t that sound exactly like what marketers should be doing to avoid making mistakes that were tragically knowable? [...]

  9. [...] Look people, in an online / social / connected / mobile / viral / cloud world, the distinction between marketing and product blurs to the point of being nonexistent.  It all carries a message and a User Experience that either strengthens or weakens your position.  And, it is all Tragically Knowable. [...]

  10. [...] Look people, in an online / social / connected / mobile / viral / cloud world, the distinction between marketing and product blurs to the point of being nonexistent.  It all carries a message and a User Experience that either strengthens or weakens your position.  And, it is all Tragically Knowable. [...]

  11. [...] of the leader is to make a determination whether the necessary data for a good decision is “tragically knowable“, but if it isn’t knowable, they still have to lead.  They can’t afford to heave [...]

  12. [...] role of the leader is to make a determination whether the necessary data for a good decision is “tragically knowable“, but if it isn’t knowable, they still have to lead.  They can’t afford to heave to in the [...]

  13. [...] in their thinking, was asked why it failed, he said, “I don’t know, but it was tragically knowable.”  He meant the idea should have been tested at much smaller volumes before all that wood [...]

  14. [...] in their thinking, was asked why it failed, he said, “I don’t know, but it was tragically knowable.”  He meant the idea should have been tested at much smaller volumes before all that wood [...]

  15. [...] to discover your market has no passion for what you’re trying to do.  That bit of news was tragically knowable with a lot less effort if you had only started out finding an [...]

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