Learning through trial & error

Nassim Taleb says, something along the lines of, successful entrepreneurs aren’t born from studying hard. What they know cannot be learned from a book. It must be learned only through consistent trial and error. Which means coming to terms with failing more often than you win. And banking on the few wins being big ones – enough to keep you fed for years.

He calls this tinkering over thinking.

In marketing, unlike coding, there are infinite paths to take. The path that works for you will be the one that’s unique to your problems. So the only way to do it well is through trial and error. At CreditStretcher, we call this marketing like a scientist.

Our process looks like this: one of us notices another company doing something interesting, a lot can be learned through mimicry by the way, and figures out quickly how it could be applied to our marketing. Or, one of us notices something in our analytics and creates a new idea, seemingly, out of thin air. We then set up a test and run it.

What we don’t do, is assume that because someone else is doing it that it’s working for them. Or even worse, assume that it’ll work for us.

This takes a couple of days at most. And we run the test for a few days. Maybe a week.

Compare that to the amount of time it takes for any larger company to run a marketing campaign. I’ve been involved in many of those in the past. They often take 6 months to a year to go from idea to launch. 

There are endless problems with their approach.

Without testing the idea on a tiny budget, they don’t know whether it’ll actually work. At this point it’s just a good guess. But then things get worse. They commit hundreds of thousands of dollars to the campaign before a single customer has seen it. Still, completely in the dark. Then they launch.

And endless evidence shows they’re failing. But they don’t change. 

In the U.K. £18 Billion a year is spent on marketing and advertising. Just 4% of it is remembered positively, 7% negatively and 89% isn’t noticed or remembered.

So, that’s £17 Billion wasted.

Why is this happening?

For me, it’s two reasons. Firstly, most marketing people are spending someone else’s money. In contrast, when you run bootstrapped company and you’re spending your own dosh, you care about every damn penny of it.

The second, more dangerous reason, is that so many people are failing to learn through trial and error. Everything they learn comes from a book. A book that has overcomplicated the most simple methods. So lots of marketers are obsessed with what’s complex, not what works. And what works is often the most simple idea. 

People [marketers] are hypnotised by complexity – Dave Trott

To be a good marketer, is to understand humans. That’s it. What do your customers want? Find out and give it to them. That will mean, instead of making your company look better, you’ll make your customers look better to their friends.

Kathy Sierra calls this “upgrading your customers”.

And doing that comes from empathy AND trial & error.

Joseph Pack

CMO day job. Learning to build stuff with code. Writing, mainly about learning to build, marketing that sucks less and psychology. If you found this article useful, subscribe to my weekly newsletter, Uncommon Aspect.