Marketers are awash in more data than we can reasonably use. Most of us probably look at 5% (or less!) of all available data in Google Analytics. The currency of an internal marketing presentation is metrics: page views, time on page, bounce rate, open rate, clickthrough rate and much more.
At the same time, we encounter scenarios in which we’re blind to certain data, which puts our campaigns in danger. I was reminded of this while reading Michael Lewis’s latest nonfiction book, "The Premonition: A Pandemic Story."
The book features an ad hoc group of seven scientists nicknamed “The Wolverines.” They communicate via emails and web conferences to discuss pandemic planning. Members of the group were called upon to assist in Federal and local efforts to fight the virus.
Battling the Mann Gulch Fire
One of the Wolverines, Carter Mecher, used fire as a metaphor to convey how challenging it is to respond to a threat that’s growing exponentially. With the Wolverines, Mecher shared the story of the Mann Gulch fire, which occurred in Montana in 1949.
A team of smokejumpers parachuted in to fight the fire. While they took a position with a lake at their back, they were surprised by a section of fire that blocked their path. According to the book, “The fire had a tailwind of 30 or maybe even 40 miles an hour and was growing exponentially.”
Some of the firefighters died, while others survived. The survivors were helped by an escape fire — a manmade fire that protected them from the larger fire. Mecher jotted down lessons from the fire, which could be applied to fighting pandemics. To quote from the book:
- You cannot wait for the smoke to clear: once you can see things clearly it is already too late.
- You can’t outrun an epidemic: by the time you start to run it is already upon you.
- Identify what is important and drop everything that is not.
- Figure out the equivalent of an escape fire.
Bringing it Back to Marketing
The work of marketers is different from scientists battling a pandemic. We also don’t battle fires as serious as Mann Gulch, though we do put out smaller fires all the time. But here’s the analogy: just like the firefighters in Mann Gulch, sometimes we operate with blind spots. We cruise along in a campaign not knowing whether there’s safety or danger just around the corner. In the rest of this article, I’ll discuss two examples and detail ways to address the blind spots.
Related Article: Marketing in a Time of Crisis
Promoting a Live Virtual Event
Recently, I worked on a few virtual events where we were short of our registration goal one week before the event date. In most cases, we thankfully saw a surge in sign-ups in the days leading up to the event and met our registration goal. With this same pattern seen across multiple events, the team documented the phenomenon: the majority of the virtual event registrations occur in the final days leading up to the event.
This reminds me a bit of the Mann Gulch fire. With a week to go until the event, you have limited visibility towards your goal. What happens in the next event when we ride through those final days and the registrations fail to appear? We’d have an expensive dinner party, complete with gourmet food and fancy table settings and no guests at the tables.
I recommend two responses to this situation. The first is to put time on your side: if you publish the event landing page one month before the live date, do it two months before for the next event. The extra time gives people more chances to discover the event and gives you more time to make adjustments along the way.
With the Bay Area Content Marketing Meetup, I find the longer a meetup is listed, the more people have a chance to discover it and attend.
The next response is to form your own escape fire. Let’s use LinkedIn Ads as an example. Run a time-boxed, self-contained campaign (e.g., $2,500 over 5 days) and assess how successful you are in generating event registrations. If it's unsuccessful, move on to something else. Otherwise, move more and more of your advertising budget to LinkedIn. Keep spending where the results are.
Related Article: Shifting to a Virtual Events Strategy
Email Marketing Open Rates
Email marketers know how important open rate is (i.e., the percentage of delivered emails that are opened by subscribers). After all, the business benefits of your email marketing (e.g., clicks, sign-ups, leads, etc.) can’t happen if subscribers don’t open the email.
There’s a blind spot with open rate, however. If the open rate of an email is 45%, you don’t know why the other 55% did not open. Possibilities include:
- Subscribers have over 5,000 unread emails and yours is the latest in that pile.
- Subscribers created an auto-filter to move your emails to a folder they’ll never check.
- Users marked your past emails as spam, so inbox providers (like Gmail) automatically moved them to a Junk or Spam folder.
Here, I’ll use this Carter Mecher lesson: “Identify what is important and drop everything that is not.” Reach out to 10-20 or so subscribers and invite them to a short (e.g., 30 minutes) feedback call. These people might be customers with whom you have a good relationship. On the call, establish a few things:
- Do they recall seeing your recent emails?
- If they don’t recall seeing them, ask them to look for your emails, including a check of their Spam folder.
- Screen share a recent email and ask for their reactions as you scroll down the page.
- Ask open-ended questions about what they’d like to see in emails they subscribe to.
Circling back to the Carter Mecher lesson, you want to figure out what’s most important to subscribers and drop everything else. Speaking to some subscribers is not perfect, since their opinions represent a portion of your audience. You have to start somewhere, however, and direct feedback from your subscribers is a great place to do that.
Are there other Michael Lewis books that can be used for marketing analogies? I can think of a few: “Liar’s Poker,” “Moneyball,” “The New New Thing” and of course, “The Blind Side.”