Running with Flawed Assumptions

Introduction

Have you ever made a flawed assumption? OK, maybe not you, but perhaps that has happened to someone you know.

Those of us who are more fallible than you sometimes make such mistakes. This month’s newsletter relates a story that reminded me of the importance of testing our assumptions to see if they are right, and also how the metrics we use to measure marketing need to be focused on our objectives.

I have to run, but please read on!
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I had lunch with my friend Charlotte the other day. In addition to being a lovely person, Charlotte is an avid runner and cyclist, and is one of several fit friends whose examples inspire me to get exercise.

Earlier this summer, I decided to take my morning walks in Monarch Park to the next level. First, I relocated my walks to the nice new running track at Monarch Park Stadium. Then, I slowly began injecting one-minute intervals of running into my 45-minute walks. I topped that off with a bit of stair climbing in the grandstand, and presto, I was doing interval training!

The first day I ran just four one-minute intervals, with a one minute walk in between. Each day I added a one-minute running interval until I was up to 15 one-minute runs. Then I started the process again but with two-minute running intervals, working up to 10 of those. The idea is to gradually work my way up to a longer total run featuring fewer but longer intervals, perhaps until I can run a marathon, or failing that, at least to the Beer Store and back.

Between bites of my tuna salad sandwich, I bragged to Charlotte about how by that morning I had built up to four 5-minute runs and two 4-minute runs. Charlotte congratulated me and then, I suspect inadvertently, inspired this newsletter by asking me how many minutes in total I was running most days. I guessed around 20 to 25 minutes even though that morning’s math (4 X 5 minutes, plus 2 X 4 minutes) suggested 28 minutes. I guessed low because I suspected my calculation was flawed. Here’s why.

When I started running, I found that the easiest way to keep track of my intervals was to split the track into 4 quarters; run 1/4, walk 1/4, and then repeat. My unit of measurement for how long I ran or walked quickly became track quarters rather than minutes.

Still, I wondered how many minutes I was running. I don’t wear a watch but it felt like each quarter took me about one minute to cover, and so I assumed one full lap took about four minutes.

I’m sure you can see the problem. I run a quarter lap faster than I can walk the same distance, and my internal clock that guessed at one minute is not likely accurate. But, I wasn’t too concerned about that. I don’t really care about my speed or lap times; I’m just trying to get some exercise to improve my overall health.

Without realizing it, while I had chosen a useful metric for keeping track of my intervals (quarters of laps), I was basing all my running time calculations on two casually made but flawed assumptions, namely that:

  • 1/4 lap = 1 minute
  • I run and walk at the same speed

Here are three simple lessons from this about metrics that apply equally to my interval training and marketing measurement.

1) Test Your Assumptions

It’s good to know if your assumptions are wrong. Using the timer on my cell phone the other day, I discovered that my five minute runs (1 1/4 laps) were actually about three minutes long. With that new information, I will probably adjust my training plan a little.

If any of your marketing measurement assumptions are based on poorly gathered or perhaps old data, such as research or analysis done under different market conditions, it may be time to revisit your assumptions.

2) Choose Metrics with Your Objectives in Mind

My specific training objective is to push myself, bit by bit, to work out a little harder each day. I measure my progress by tracking and increasing my distance-based intervals. I also check my heart rate when I’m done.

Make sure you’re clear about the specific objectives for each marketing program and pick metrics that measure the right things. Challenge your choice of metrics by asking yourself if knowing that number will help you to know whether your marketing programs are successful.

3) Align Program Objectives with Overall Objectives

Getting good results against my interval and heart rate objectives should lead to success against my overall objective of better health. One metric for that is my weight. So, I hop on the scale now and then to ensure my weight is heading in the right direction.

Your marketing program objectives should relate to customer activity that leads to better results against overall corporate objectives, such as revenue and profit. Strong results against the right program objectives should translate into hitting your company’s financial objectives.

Running around with flawed assumptions in my head really wasn’t a problem in this case because those assumptions were about an unimportant metric relative to my objectives.

If you’re running a marketing department or managing a marketing budget, a clear focus on your objectives will help you identify the right metrics for your measurement efforts. It’s also healthy to challenge any assumptions about your data and to test those assumptions to help keep your marketing on track.

About Rick Shea
Rick Shea is President of Optiv8 Consulting, a marketing consultancy that helps small to mid-sized organizations improve their marketing impact and business outcomes through customer insights, strategic discipline and effective content. Copyright ©2016 Optiv8 Consulting. All rights reserved. You may reproduce this article by including this copyright and, if reproducing electronically, including a link to: http://www.optiv8.com/

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