Jay Baer recently published the 10 posts that earned the most page views on his extremely popular blog, Convince and Convert. I was extremely honored and moderately surprised to have contributed to the two top posts from 2016: The Most Important Podcast Statistics of 2016, and 5 Snapchat Statistics That Prove Its Power. I will also note that there were two other posts in his Top Ten that focused on statistics and metrics.
I learned two valuable lessons from Jay's list, and specifically the fact that four posts on stats and metrics made it. The first is not very helpful to you, and that is for me to send Jay all of our data as often as I can (duh.)
The second, however, is hopefully less self-serving and a more exportable insight--and that is to think about why posts about statistics are such "catnip," as Jay describes them. The Scottish writer Andrew Lang once noted that Politicians use statistics "as a drunkard uses lamp posts--for support rather than illumination." Of course, in my field, we rely on them for illumination, and nothing gives me more satisfaction in my career than to have contributed new facts to the world that did not exist prior to our asking the questions.
But, let's consider the unjustly-maligned drunkard in Lang's quote. Yes, it is true that many times people look for statistics that prove or support the opinion they already held--indeed, it's a cognitive bias that we often can't overcome. Now, I would never counsel using research to prove yourself right--if that is your goal, you always will. The true gift you can give yourself as a marketer is to always seek to prove yourself wrong. But putting motive aside, why were so many people looking for statistics on podcasting, Snapchat, and the myriad other things we and others have researched over the past year?
I suspect these articles were used more for support than for illumination, but I don't think that is a bad thing, really--especially as we are about to enter a period of extreme upheaval in the discipline of marketing. There is a lot of disruption ahead in 2017, as the chasm between the haves and the have-nots in digital and content marketing widens, and as we are forced to learn what really works today when the things that used to work start breaking. Digital ad spending is up 20% over last year, for example, but if you look closer, that increase is mostly all going to Facebook and Google--and largely because they have built a strategic moat around their targeting capabilities that other vehicles are struggling to match. The incredible rise in subscription media, podcasts, and other ad-light media means that reaching an addressable audience is tougher than ever. And the lifespan of the average CMO is not increasing, that's for sure.
In short, to quote noted marketing expert, Big Daddy Kane, pimpin' ain't easy--and it's getting tougher. So maybe those people using the lamp post of statistics for support are doing it because, frankly, they need something to hang on to. I don't know what is going to happen to the global economy in 2017, but that is kinda the point--this is a period of great uncertainty, and any lamp posts and life rings we can throw people are likely to be appreciated because they are needed.
In uncertain times, a flight to safety often ensues. That's why people buy bonds in a bad economy--we have an almost animal-like instinct to seek shelter in a storm. For many marketers, that storm may be coming very soon. So, while there will always be an audience for content on cutting edge strategies, the newest tactics, or experimental techniques that might provide a competitive advantage, no one can build something lasting on a weak foundation.
So, my unsolicited advice to you, dear marketers, is to invest your time and treasure in helping your prospective clients reduce their uncertainty. The answer is not your product (what a boring conversation that is!)--the answer is to find out what they are most nervous about (the knowable and unknowable unknowns, to quote the great American poet Donald Rumsfeld) and to offer them the certainty of a lamp post by doing what you can to help them know.
I'm often shocked by how little some companies really know about their target customers. I bet that is true of many of the companies to whom you are marketing your goods and services (and possibly true for you, as well.) Consider what piece(s) of information would, if known, reduce their uncertainty. When companies feel the pressure of an unstable economic environment, they don't increase their spending, that's for sure. So in a disruptive environment, it isn't enough just to market your stuff--especially if there is a flight to safety occurring in your industry. You need to find the levers to create the mindspace for your prospective buyers to even consider something new.
Chris Brogan once asked me what I sell. The census code answer is "market research," while the highfalutin answer is "Decision Support." But ultimately what I told him was this: I sell comfort. As you craft the bits and baubles of your marketing plan for 2017, think about the ways in which you can also provide comfort to your prospects, as they bob and weave through uncertain times like drunkards trying to get home from the pub. Give them ways to remove that uncertainty by helping them know some of their unknowns.
Build a few lamp posts.