How to Use Science and Data in Marketing

It's essential to understand how to leverage both components.

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Most entrepreneurs feel like they could get better results from their  efforts. If this describes you, you should know that you’re not alone and this is not a new challenge. 

There’s a quote by former U.S. Postmaster General John Wanamaker, who passed away in 1922 and is considered by many to be a marketing pioneer: “Half the money I spend on is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half.” 

Things have changed dramatically since then, and we now have the ability to track and test literally every aspect of our marketing to an astonishing level of granularity. Unfortunately, most entrepreneurs don’t do this effectively, and instead rely mainly on instinct for everything from planning to execution to measurement. This is a huge mistake that hurts them financially. 

That's why I want to highlight some of the ways companies have successfully used data and in their marketing to more powerful and more consistent results.

Related: Marketing Is Still an Art (and a Science)

Microsoft

Few people outside of the SEO industry give much thought to what search results literally look like, but not Microsoft. Its researchers found that blue links resulted in greater click-through rates, and following extensive testing of various shades they settled on a particular shade of blue.(It was #0044CC if you’re curious.)

So why blue? Some hypothesize it’s because that was the default color of all links in the early days of the internet, so we're predisposed to click on them. But the reality is blue has always been a color that has inspired trust, which is why the likes of IBM, Dell and incorporated it in their logos.

Why this particular shade of blue? No one really knows for sure. But what’s important is that Microsoft didn’t just pick a color because the team liked it; the decision was driven by quantifiable data, which resulted in a massive increase in revenue.

Lesson: You need to test your hypothesis and make decisions based on quantifiable data rather than relying purely on instinct.

Harley-Davidson

Riders and manufacturers alike often talk about the mood-enhancing effect of riding a motorcycle. Harley-Davidson, which is arguably the most iconic motorcycle in the world, wasn’t content to just make that claim themselves. After all, there is an obvious self-interest that nullifies the claim for many people when it comes directly from the brand.

Instead, they enlisted the help of neuroscientist Dr. Don Vaughn to scientifically prove it. Vaughn, in conjunction with UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, performed brain scans to monitor the mood of test subjects in real-time as they rode the brand’s motorcycles.

The test results verified what motorcycle enthusiasts have claimed for decades, giving Harley-Davidson powerful new ammunition to use in its marketing efforts. And because the data came from an objective source, it’s seen as a third-party endorsement and is generally perceived as more credible.

Imagine the impact this will have. Not only can Harley-Davidson appeal to customers’ nostalgia, brand loyalty and sense of adventure, but they now can also claim health benefits from their motorcycles!

But there’s also another hidden advantage in this strategy. When other brands talk about the mood-enhancing effect of riding a motorcycle, it will inevitably lead to more exposure and brand awareness for Harley-Davidson because people will research the claim and come across Vaughn’s study.

Lesson: You need to build credibility through research conducted by third-party entities. The more authoritative, the better.

Related: Make Your Ads Works of Art, but Your Marketing Plan Needs to Be All Science

Facebook

Most people realize the massive amount of data that Facebook collects on users on a daily basis. What I find more interesting, though, is how that data is being used.

Facebook’s advertising platform has evolved to leverage this data for unprecedented targeting capabilities. Advertisers can target audiences based on direct criteria like interests, location and age, but it goes far beyond that. 

Today, we can target people who might be interested in or have a need for our products or services — even though they never expressed an interest — simply based on their behavior.

This is possible only because of Facebook’s large-scale data collection. The data comes from the things you post, the content you engage with, the places you visit and even the things you do or say offline, among numerous other sources. 

Yes, you read that correctly. Facebook is actively tracking your activity and conversations both online and offline — even if you don’t have an account, and predicting your needs and future actions based on that.  Think of it like the movie Minority Report, but for marketing. 

That’s why when you talk about something, you’ll often start seeing ads for that type of product or service start showing up in your feed. This use of data has given Facebook one of the most effective advertising platforms of our time, although it has become significantly less effective over the last few years due to new privacy laws and poor customer service.

Lesson: You need to truly understand your customers so you can tailor your message specifically for them.

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