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Why the Marketing Advice You’ve Received Hasn’t Worked

One of the problems we see most often that our clients have experienced, and that we have talked about before, is that they have been given bad marketing advice in the past.

Most of the time, this has not been malicious in nature. It’s been due to the Dunning-Kruger effect.

In the field of psychology, the Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which people mistakenly assess their cognitive ability as greater than it is. It is related to the cognitive bias of illusory superiority and comes from the inability of people to recognize their lack of ability. 

Wikipedia

That’s a lot of industry terms, so we’ll attempt to simplify it a bit.

Professor Dunning said, “the knowledge and intelligence that are required to be good at a task are often the same qualities needed to recognize that one is not good at that task.”

The effect is named after researchers David Dunning and Justin Kruger, the two social psychologists who first described it. In their original study on this psychological phenomenon, they performed a series of four investigations.

People who scored in the lowest percentiles on tests of grammar, humor, and logic also tended to dramatically overestimate how well they had performed. Their actual test scores placed them in the 12th percentile, but they estimated that their performance placed them in the 62nd percentile.

Here’s a few examples of places where we’ve seen the Dunning-Kruger effect related to marketing advice:

Client #1: You must do a Facebook Live every day

One of our clients said “my marketing coach told me that I have to post a Facebook live video every day”. What they wanted to know is … do I really have to do a live video every day for my marketing? This can have a place in your Facebook marketing strategy, but it’s not the primary thing, the only thing, nor the most important thing you should be doing.

Client #2: You must use a grid system for Instagram

This client came to us and said that they learned you have to use a grid system on Instagram to reflect your brand and get engagement. This can have a place in your Instagram strategy, but it’s not the ONLY strategy, nor the main one.

Client #3: A new logo that couldn’t be used for all their needs

This is a fairly common problem we see. This client had a logo designed by a relatively new designer … and it’s bad for reproduction purposes. They’ve gotten a designer who likes to design, and the design looks good in most cases, but they have no experience with some of the requirements to be able to use their logo for different commercial printing purposes, such as needing different file types or color profiles. The designer didn’t know what they didn’t know.

Client #4: Getting marketing advice from someone who just finished the course but didn’t quite understand

I’ve seen similar things happen with someone who was giving advice to a client, who had gone through a particular marketing training course (one of the big names you’d recognize that are too big to get individual attention). This is the same course that I’ve taken myself – I’m always looking for new courses and ways to improve my knowledge of marketing, seeing maybe how someone else does it, or to learn more about the latest trends – like we all should in our own business and in our industry. (Even though I didn’t learn anything new from this big name, it’s always great to have your strategies reinforced.)

In this particular case, that third person was telling the client not to put a direct call-to-action in their copy. Just to clarify, I even reached out to the staff that handles the training to ask them did I miss something? Of course they said absolutely not, the call to action is a very important part of your copy and needs to be very clear.

Here’s what’s going on when the marketing advice you’ve been given doesn’t work

The similar theme through these four examples is that someone has taken a course or a training, or worked with a coach, who has given them information. It’s very possible that information was accurate, but the person hearing it didn’t process it the same.

In most cases it’s because of lack of experience.

I can relate to you an example that happened recently with one of my current clients.

Client #5: Marketing advice from a friend who doesn’t understand what we’re talking about

I was working with my client on their WooCommerce e-commerce website through WordPress. I was teaching her how to add new products and some of the things she needs to make sure to include. One of the pieces she wanted to make sure that we connected was automatically posting the products to Facebook, so we had set up that integration.

I was walking her through and showing her how easy it is to do that, and showed on her WordPress site in, the WooCommerce product, it would show each Facebook variation as just a random combination of numbers but that she didn’t need to worry about that.

One thing we understand very well is that the majority of our clients are not tech experts. Many feel that when you talk about any kind of technology that you’re speaking Greek. We get it! That’s why we are so good at putting it in normal language, and that’s why people love our marketing training so much – we explain it and you don’t have to know all the technical jargon to understand. So we always keep in mind as well that the client may not understand.

That’s why we told her that she doesn’t need to understand why it’s doing this, just showing so that there wouldn’t be confusion if she sees a list of Facebook items with a bunch of random numbers or letters.

Several months later, after that piece of the project was long done, the client came back to us and said

I was talking to a friend of mine who does Facebook and she said you don’t know what you’re talking about. Facebook doesn’t do anything with just a bunch of random numbers, and so you don’t know what you’re doing.’

At first my initial reaction was wondering “what is she talking about?”, so I went back through the notes of our discussions and saw where I had showed her that integration on the WooCommerce WordPress side of this connection to Facebook.

Her friend does Facebook, but doesn’t have enough experience with WooCommerce to understand what I was talking about.

What Dunning Kruger looks like as a graph

If you take a regular X/Y graph that you used in math long ago …

Before you know anything about a subject, you’re at 0,0

When you learn a bit about a subject, suddenly this whole new world opens to you – you’re excited and actively read and study and watch videos and learn more – and the graph shoots up all the way to the top in a really short timeframe. You have a LOT of confidence in your knowledge.

Sort of like a teenager. (Disclaimer: I love kids)

Then, over time as you learn more, you move along your horizontal axis and that line starts to slope back down. You begin to realize that you don’t know nearly as much as what you thought you did.

More like a young adult who suddenly realizes the parental unit may know a thing or two.

As you gain more and more experience as time goes on, it slowly aims back up towards the top.

Imposter Syndrome

In a way, you can call the opposite of the Dunning-Kruger effect the Imposter Syndrome which you’ve likely also heard of.

Imposter Syndrome happens when you’ve gotten to the point where you realize you don’t know anything about the subject that you thought you knew a lot about. Even though you have a lot of experience you feel like an imposter – people are going to know that I don’t know everything!

That big upswing at the initial part of the graph is the point sometimes that people believe they’re an expert, and since they’re so excited they may be taking courses, working with coaches, or training and learn a particular method. Because they don’t know as much about the topic, they may not understand some pieces, and when they turn around and now teach it to their own clients. They can be using the same framework from their teacher, yet because they don’t understand some of the pieces, or they have misunderstood some of the information, or they are missing critical pieces, that can be why the marketing advice you’ve received hasn’t worked so well.

Because they’re new, they don’t know what they don’t know.

Some of my peers in marketing as we talk, we discuss the new businesses who have been doing social media marketing for businesses professionally for only a few months, or only with one or two clients. We’re gathered with decades of experience each, some in our group even still at the Imposter Syndrome stage, and we hear people being given marketing advice that isn’t quite on the mark, or in some cases flat out incorrect.

It’s a very interesting psychological effect. I can still suffer from Imposter Syndrome yet I have 30 years of experience in marketing (including up through the CMO level). I’ve been using social media to market businesses for over a decade! I signed up with Facebook 2005 – you still had to have a university email address that ended in .edu to sign up at that time. I was working at a non-profit and began using Facebook to promote our business. Other platforms such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest – I’m an early adopter; I jump on the platforms very early because I have to keep my clients informed. So I’ve been doing social media marketing for a decade and a half!

I’ll tell you I don’t know everything, but I know a lot.

The world is wide open to learning, which is something that I love about the internet – when it’s good advice. If you don’t know a subject, it’s hard to weed through the internet and figure out what actually is the good marketing advice and what is not.

That’s what happens with many of our clients. They’ve worked with coaches or consultants or taken training classes from someone who is in the initial part of that upswing of the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

Remember, Professor Dunning said, “the knowledge and intelligence that are required to be good at a task are often the same ones needed to recognize that you’re not good at a task.” These new coaches/consultants are still becoming good at the task and don’t have the same knowledge to recognize what’s missing, to understand what they don’t understand, to know what they don’t know.

How to increase your chances of getting good marketing advice

The best way to counteract this cognitive bias is to see how much direct experience in the marketing industry the person you’re working with has.

It seems on social medias that we’ve gotten away from that a little bit with so much availability of online recommendations – Yelp recommendations and clients can post testimonials. Those are great and you want those! I love seeing when someone’s clients have had a good experience. Yet there is something to be said for experience and working with a lot of clients and a lot of experience in the field.

So check that for on the person that you’re getting your marketing advice from.

If you do want some straight-shooting marketing advice – no BS we tell it to you how we know it’s worked for clients in the past – that’s what we offer.


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