Maverick Thinking

When it comes to marketing, the past is a foreign country: they do things differently there

05 December 2021 5 min read
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Adam Tuckwell

It’s easy to see why one of the most effective ways to determine what will happen in the future is to look at the past. When it comes to marketing, having accurate data at your fingertips is essential for helping you make sound decisions. That said, having too much data can harm your marketing strategy as it’s all too easy to place too much emphasis on what has happened in the past, allowing it to limit your perspective. Mobas’ Commercial Director Adam Tuckwell walks the fine line between balancing knowledge gained from insight and keeping an open mind when planning for the future.

“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” These are the immortal first words to L P Hartley’s best-known novel, The Go-between. Hartley wistfully condenses the problems inherent to memory and history in a single sentence. Over the past decade or so, our marketing activities have become increasingly more sophisticated. No longer are we reliant on making judgements on the success or failures of our campaigns based on immeasurable feelings or general hypotheses. Now, the richness of the data we have at our fingertips allows us to see campaign results like never before, empowering us to test and review tone, messaging, audiences’ priorities and tactical channels to the nth degree.

Does access to so much data make us any better at our roles, or does the safety net of knowing what has gone before actually stop us from thinking creatively, being bold and revolutionising our thinking? Will our reliance on data from past performance coupled with the march towards automation mean future generations of marketers will be doers rather than thinkers?

Of course, we would be foolish to ignore past performance entirely. Albert Einstein is famously credited with the statement “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result”. If your marketing isn’t working, repeating the same tactics and messages expecting a different result will put you on the fast track to failure. But data has its limitations, and failing to acknowledge this can be costly. The facts may not lie, but our awareness of the broader context might limit our perspective.

Take a moment to reflect on your marketing performance from the last two years. The pandemic will undoubtedly have impacted your business. But for many, 2020 already feels like ancient history. The data will tell us trends, but it’s human nature to fail to recall the unique circumstances of the pandemic. Therefore, the data alone isn’t a reliable measure for the future, but neither is looking further back at performance from 2018 or 2019. The world has changed, your audiences have changed, and placing too great a prominence on your historic performance makes you susceptible to tunnel vision. We become insular, and we fail to see and acknowledge how our customers’ needs and habits are changing. We don’t look at our competitors and track their evolution. We fail to recognise any other variable that impacts our businesses.

If insanity is repeating the same mistakes, I’d argue that simply recycling mediocre campaigns and failing to be bold makes you equally culpable of insanity. If your marketing plans are sitting on your hard drive gathering digital dust, leave them be. Grab a fresh sheet of paper and make 2022 the year you actively choose to be bold and leave the past behind you.