What Marketing And Meteorology Have In Common

I’m currently reading a fascinating book:  The Invisible Gorilla: And Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us.  You’re already familiar with the invisible gorilla experiment if you’ve watched the popular “awareness test” video that got passed around in 2008 (and has been viewed nearly 10 million times).  That test was essentially a clone of the original experiment.

The book isn’t just about the invisible gorilla experiment, authors (and cognitive psychologists) Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons share many compelling examples and well-sourced datapoints of how psychological illusions permeate our everyday lives.  One example that struck me as a digital marketer was from the chapter 4, which discusses the illusion of knowledge:  weather forecasters.  Modern marketers and weather forecasters share striking similarities.

Some quick excerpts from the book illustrates this:

Meteorologists continually adjust their predictions – and the mathematical and statistical models and computer programs that generate those predictions – based on feedback from previous predictions.

Weather forecasting is unusual in that forecasters receive immediate and definitive feedback about their predictions.  Like weather forecasters, when we receive appropriate feedback, we can sometimes calibrate our judgments and eliminate the illusion of knowledge.

Unfortunately, for most of the judgments that we make in our lives, we never receive the precise feedback that weather forecasters do of seeing the next morning weather we were right or wrong, day after day, year after year.  This is an important difference between meteorology and fields like medicine.  Information about the correctness of a diagnosis or the outcome of a surgical procedure is available in principle.  It is rarely collected systematically, stored and analyzed the way data about the weather is.

Scientists, architects and hedge fund managers are respected, but weather forecasters are parodied.  Yet weather forecasters have fewer illusions about their own knowledge than do members of these other professions.

If you are a marketer, just like a weather forecaster:

  • You now have near real-time data on the quality of your ideas
  • You are given immediate and definitive feedback on the success of your actions through web analytics and monitoring tools – day after day, year after year
  • You should be using this data to make future decisions and predict their outcomes, refining your approaches
  • The data is collected systematically, stored and analyzed in a meaningful way to see larger trends and sharpen your accuracy

If you’re not doing these things, you are not taking advantage of what’s available and are behind the curve of marketing and PR – all of this is now at your fingertips.  In digital marketing, you are constantly making predictions and getting data as an outcome, many cases in real time.

To illustrate the digital divide – marketers leveraging this vs. those who are not would be like comparing today’s meteorologists who leverage modern technology with one from 1920.  Who would you hire?

Your marketing no longer has to be based on principles. The reality is you can’t make truly informed decisions until you get iterative and are constantly testing new ideas you predict will be effective based on past data.  Then, as you move forward you use successes and failures to guide decisions and get progressively more accurate.

This is exactly why if you are a modern marketer and you aren’t experimenting and constantly getting feedback you will never be as effective as those who do.  And you should not just be doing this with clients, or if you’re in house, with a brand.  You need to be doing this independently with your own unique ideas if you hope to be on the level playing field with those at the edge.

As Chris and Dan point out in The Invisible Gorilla, Meteorologists are in a unique position to consistently get feedback on their ideas and iteratively learn and improve.  This is an extremely valuable position to be in.  Marketers are also now in such a position – it’s a matter of whether they choose to take advantage of it or not.

image credit: leonid via Shutterstock