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How analysis paralysis can break marketing for publishers

November 22, 2010

Analysis Paralysis, the tactic of analysing everything but achieving little, can have a significant impact on the performance of marketing. Yes, analysis is key to maximising costs, ROI and lifetime value, but often analysis can be the enemy of commerce: too little money-making going on at the  expense of otiose intellectualising. What can be done?

In  Ascham’s Toxophilus, the paean to archery presented to Henry VIII at Greenwich in 1545, we learn that desire, study and focused execution leads to intuitive bowmanship: the imperceptible moving from nocking to loosing which delivers the most accurate shot. So it must be with marketing practice.

We can labour with statistics to hone the perfect form but if the marketing piece, like some poorly sourced longbow, is full of pins and shivers, then surely it will crack and splinter all around. If the piece is poorly written, it will fail to convince its recipients of the need to purchase. If it is poorly targeted it will miss at the butts. If it is poorly designed it may fail to convince of price and value. Campaign analysis will tell you none of these things. Analysis is not emotional.

Yes, you can analyse the performance or otherwise of marketing activity(and indeed you must do so) but if the activity itself is unfit for purpose then it shall, as Toxophilus warns, “pulleth the back in sunder, and then the bow flieth in many pieces.” What is more frustrating for a managing director than to hear that “according to analysis the marketing isn’t working”? The purpose of analysis is not to present the end fact but to define by learning the intuitiveness of marketing skill. The more we learn, the better we become.

In publishing you don’t have to go too far to uncover marketers who are dutifully completing analysis sheets for campaigns which are then filed away in drawers or in computer files never to be seen again. What learning is this? This is the marketing practice of the mad house: people happily conducting analysis and never doing anything with it.

In some cases the culture of analytical discussion (where analysis is reviewed to inform direction, technique and purpose) is simply not present. Everyone understands the value of the analysis but the company does not permit it to be used. Worse, some marketers in such a situation would actually prefer to carry on analysing because they actually don’t know what to do with the analysis. Indeed, they aren’t marketers at all!

So it is that analysis paralysis can destroy the marketing function in publishing companies. Analytical review, exposure and learning are key to commercial success. This way, intuitive marketing skill based on real learning and finessed application creates dynamic marketing and a healthy and valued team.

Ascham, writing over 450 years ago, cites Cicero: “And hereby you may see that that is true which Cicero saith; that a man, by use, may be brought to a new nature. And this I dare to be bold to say, that any man which will wisely begin, and constantly persevere in the trade of learning to shoot, shall attain to perfection therein.”

I couldn’t agree more. But as Ascham himself knew – writing at a time when the longbow was being overtaken by the arquebus – success in execution requires motivation and the will of management. Ascham was fighting a losing battle but his words carry as much relevance today in a different sphere as they did all those years ago. If the right environment for success is not there, people will carry on doing what they’ve always done. And get what they’ve always got.


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