You don’t have to have been in the business world for long to come across accepted wisdom in its many forms.
It often takes the form of blanket statements that begin with “No one” or “Everyone,” as in “No one is going to click that link to buy it.” Or use “always” or “never,” as in “Our customers have always done it that way” or “That will never work.”
Accepted wisdom is a nefarious phenomenon that undermines change and innovation, two capabilities every company needs if it wants to succeed. Often it’s grounded in insecurity with change or innovation, but just as often it’s based on a sincere point of view bolstered by real experience.
Not all accepted wisdom is bad, of course. There are often sound reasons why wisdom has become accepted in the first place. But in today’s world where Uber, AirBnB, YouTube, and a blur of new technologies threaten to constantly upend business models, accepted wisdom is a very dangerous blind spot for companies and executives to hold onto.
There’s often a simple answer to accepted wisdom—test it. To paraphrase Tom Cruise and Cuba Gooding Jr. (something I never thought I’d do, by the way), the rallying cry of every executive in any part of the organisation should be: “Show me the data!” The antidote to accepted wisdom is a healthy dose of scepticism informed by a desire to see proof. Luckily we’re living in a time where data is everywhere, and systems are flexible enough to execute simple, useful tests. Here are some of my favourite “Show me the data” examples:
Google discovered a couple of years ago that the blue links on ads on Google search and on Gmail were a slightly different shade of blue. Instead of just asking the creative director to pick one, they ran those two shades of blue in a 1 per cent experiment on the web page,
along with 40 other shades of blue just to cover their bases. They found that users preferred, and clicked more on, a blue shade that had less green and more purple in it. That change was worth $200 million in new revenue.
In another example, Alex Hoffman, the senior director EMEA consumer for PayPal, describes how analytics helped leadership see how a previously disregarded channel for customer acquisition was actually a major channel.
And then there’s this great video from Matt Jauchius, CMO of Nationwide. He explains how advanced analytics drove better allocation decisions for how to spend millions of marketing dollars, such as putting more money into a national buy and put less money into the local geographical buys that had been their mainstay.
By challenging the accepted wisdom—or gut instinct—the company achieved a double-digit increase in marketing efficiency, as measured by “quality demand” generated per dollar.
David Edelman is a partner at McKinsey’s Marketing & Sales Practice. To learn more about this topic and others, please visit the Chief Marketing & Sales Officer Forum. Follow David on Twitter @davidedelman.
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