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« Important/Measured | Main | Cascade of broken promises »

The limits of evidence-based marketing

That's what most of us do. We present facts and proof and expect a rational consumer/voter/follower/peer to make an intelligent decision on what's better.

That's how science works. Thesis, test, evidence, conclusion. All testable and rational.

Here's the conversation that needs to happen before we invest a lot of time in evidence-based marketing in the face of skepticism: "What evidence would you need to see in order to change your mind?"

If the honest answer is, "well, actually, there's nothing you could show me that would change my mind," you've just saved everyone a lot of time. Please don't bother having endless fact-based discussions.

[Apple tried to use evidence to persuade IT execs and big companies to adopt the Mac during the 80s. They tried ads and studies that proved the Mac was easier and cheaper to support. They failed. It was only the gentle persistence of storytelling and the elevation of evangelists that turned the tide.]

What would you have to show someone who believes men never walked on the moon? What evidence would you have to proffer in order to change the mind of someone who is certain the Earth is only 5,000 years old? If they're being truthful with you, there's nothing they haven't been exposed to that would do the trick. I was talking to someone who has a body of artistic work I respect a great deal. He explained to me his notion that the polio vaccine was a net negative, that it didn't really work and that more people have been hurt by it than helped.

I tried evidence. I showed him detailed reports from the Gates Foundation and from the WHO and from other sources. No, he said, that's all faked, promoted by the pharma business. There was no evidence that would change his mind.

Of course, evidence isn't the only marketing tactic that is effective. In fact, it's often not the best tactic. What would change his mind, what would change the mind of many people resistant to evidence is a series of eager testimonials from other tribe members who have changed their minds. When people who are respected in a social or professional circle clearly and loudly proclaim that they've changed their minds, a ripple effect starts. First, peer pressure tries to repress these flip-flopping outliers. But if they persist in their new mindset, over time others may come along. Soon, the majority flips. It's not easy or fast, but it happens.

That's why it's hard to find people who believe the earth is flat. That's why political parties change their stripes now and then. It wasn't that the majority reviewed the facts and made a shift. It's because people they respected sold them on a new faith, a new opinion.

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