Chasing his tail

In marketing, we love to talk about optimization. Conversion rate optimization. Landing page optimization. Revenue optimization. Search engine optimization. Social marketing optimization. We dream of being able to squeeze every bit of performance out of our marketing machinery like a Formula 1 race car driver.

In our endless quest for optimization, we forget one vitally important thing, however:

You can endlessly optimize a bad system.

For example, we can endlessly delve into our analytics and optimize our practices for any given metric. You can optimize your Twitter habits to maximize the number of followers you have whose handles begin with the letter A. A ludicrous example, to be sure, but not so far from what many marketers already do.

In the quest for optimizing for that metric, we forget to question whether we should even be doing the practice at all. Worse, as Simon Sinek points out in his book Leaders Eat Last, our brains give us positive chemical reinforcement for every little optimization we deliver. We get a shot of dopamine in our neurons every time we squeeze out another percentage point of performance – but we fail to ask whether the performance even matters. We can chase our tails endlessly and feel like we’re getting somewhere.

The best thinkers, the best strategists in marketing don’t just leap into optimization without first understanding the strategic (un)importance of any given practice or method. Ask first whether you should do it at all before you ask how to do it better!

You can get very good at being very bad. Better to not do at all than to do the bad par excellence.


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