Marketing Math Is Hard (And It’s Breaking Marketers)

Math is everywhere these days in marketing, so why did Facebook release a new ad diagnostic tool with nothing more than symbols and colors? In this episode of Marketing is Broken, we look at how marketing math is making its way into our everyday lives and what you can do to leverage the incursion to your advantage.
10/19/2018

Facebook recently announced a new suite of business tools for marketers during their Global Partner Summit 2018.

The centerpiece of the advertiser’s product feature launch is a new ad diagnostic tool called Creative Compass. This shiny looking object promises to give visual prompts to marketers to help them increase ad noticeability, comprehension, and more. 

And while I’m the first person to geek out over new tools that help marketers better understand and serve consumers, something about this implementation seems little… patronizing. 

Marketers have been crying about brand safety, transparency, and measurement for so long now that I get the feeling Facebook is just trying to put something in front of us that will get us to stop fussing.

The last brand I fondly remember using this many friendly symbols and colors was Fisher Price. 

And while I loved the crap out of what I refer to as my first dashboard, I’ll be the first to tell you that marketers shouldn’t help but feel like Creative Compass is a signal that Facebook has given up our ability interpret and analyze real data.

And that leads us to to this week’s topic: math.

Marketing Math Is Hard

If you’re the type of person who’s really good at math, then you probably have more important things to do than watch an amazing YouTube series about marketing.

Seriously though, the math-inclined among us can do a lot more good and probably make a lot more money using their skills for things like science, engineering, or intensely staring while superimposed numbers float about their head.

If you’re like most marketers, math makes you feel more uncomfortable than asking your sister for her Netflix password again because you know she knows you need it to watch Stranger Things and yet here it is, changed again… seriously… who needs to change their Netflix password that many times?

But as the trend towards digital marketing grows, so too has the need for marketers like you and me to dust off our textbooks, hold them up high, and drop some knowledge on ourselves when we encounter algebra, statistics, and calculus in our day-to-day responsibilities. 

How To Math As A Marketer

Here are three ways to not let math get in your way of being a better marketer.

First, don’t be afraid of math. If you grew up learning math at the chalkboard, you probably don’t have fond memories of the subject. But things have changed.

Today, places like Khan Academy explain math simply and visually. It’s a lot easier than a lot of us had it back in high school and college, whether that was a handful or more than a handful of years ago. 

Plus, once you relearn basic math principles, you can rely on today’s tools to do the heavy-lifting. Good old Excel does some amazing regression analyses and new predictive analytics platforms like RapidMiner are cropping up every day.

You’ll be creating your own Naive Bayes models in no time. 

Second, don’t let math play tricks on you. It’s not uncommon for marketers to run an A/B test on a homepage or in an advertising campaigns and then claim victory when conversion rates increase.

Our analytics reports and testing tools are right most of the time, but it’s easy to introduce bias into our experiments through simple mistakes like not collecting enough data, collecting data unevenly across variations, or even letting tests go too long to the point where time becomes an unintended factor.

And third, don’t find yourself overpaying for math. Marketers tend to overcompensate for our lack of math skills, and as a result can waste our budgets and time on unnecessary data.

We often feel obligated to use phrases like “I’m 99% confident” and “We’ll leave no margin for error” because we work in an industry built on hyperbole and things that sound nice. The reality is that certainty almost always costs more money.

For example, let’s say you want to get the opinion on an important issue to a company from its 1,000,000 customers.

And let’s say that it costs $3 to go ask each person what they think.

If you wanted to be 99% confident in your data with a 1% margin of error, our friend math says you’d need to pay just over $49,000 to contact all those people.

By contrast, compare this to just $807 if you wanted to be 90% confident in your data with a 5% margin of error. 

Don’t just pay for certainty because it’s there. Math can help you figure out how confident you need to be depending on how high the stakes are and your financial parameters.

So if you’re tempted to check out Facebook’s new plaything, I get it. It’s shiny. Just don’t spend too long on it.

Instead, use the time to invest in understanding how math is best used in the marketing profession.

It will almost certainly make you a more capable, confident, and accomplished marketer. I’m like, 99% confident. 

And that's how you can help fix marketing. 

Author: Josh Braaten

CEO - Brandish Insights

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