I Think = I’m Guessing


Everyone has heard the old adage about opinions. Marketing people have opinions, CEO’s have opinions. Developers, users, testers, account managers and designers all have opinions, too. But with all these opinions floating around, which one is the right one?

None of the them. Well, kind of.

Let’s say you have a user interface problem. Something small, say the placement of a logout button. Where should it go? The designer thinks it “looks better” in line with the other buttons. The developer thinks it’s easier to put it outside the container because it breaks on small screens. The client thinks it should remain the upper left because customers are used to the legacy system. So who’s right? Each of these professionals have years of experience, anecdotal references, studies to cite, professional training and personal biases. But at the end of the day, each decision is a guess. An informed guess, to be sure, but a guess all the same.


But as a marketing professional, how can I say that? Is all of what we in the industry do guesswork? Of course not. There are many factors from common sense to common convention that we use to inform our decisions along with as much research as we can do. But even with the most detailed user personas, the most thorough market research reports, the most comprehensive usability tests, and the best group of talented people, there’s still a chance that any idea will fall flat. So what do we do? We charge on, bravely. We come up with the best solution we can with the time and resources we have, we make it, and then we verify.

When Wieden+Kennedy produced the first wildly successful Old Spice campaign, they had no idea it would be so successful. Sure, they had developed the idea with a team of super smart and creative people who were on board and they pitched it to some equally smart people. They even probably screened it with some test audiences that matched their target demographic. They did everything possible to see if it was a good idea. But you can never be sure. After all that work, the idea was still an assumption. So they started small and then, after seeing the response, seeing the verification of the idea, they spun up production and struck while the iron was hot and the campaign made history.

But let’s look at an opposite example. Remember Google Wave? Buzz? They were products rumored to change everything. Again, slick ideas created and designed by super smart people, but still assumptions at the end of the day. Google thought Wave and Buzz would work, and they had probably more data than they knew what to do with. But they didn’t work. Wave and Buzz were wrong guesses (and an expensive ones) and no amount of research, planning or talent could have saved them.

So what’s the lesson here? Should we just throw darts at an idea board? Crowdsource literally everything? I don’t think so. There will always be a need for professional expertise, the ability to see patterns over time and experiencing first-hand what worked and what didn’t. However, what we do need to keep in mind is that none of us know for sure. Even as I write I can’t know for a fact that anything I’ve written will resonate with you. But, like Google, who gathered feedback from Wave and Buzz in order to produce Google+, I’ll use whatever I can to get at the why so my next post will be better.