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Beware of marketing trends & predictions in 2014

It’s that time of year when every expert and his blog are giving their predictions and trends for 2014, whether it be jobs, the stock market, or, my own area of interest, digital marketing and social media. But beware; statistically speaking, these experts have only a marginally better chance of being correct than a random forecast generator. For examples, take a look at these famously false predictions.

I’m like you, I like to know what’s coming and what to plan for. In many area’s of my life, I feel I can predict some things; bills, sleeping, eating, income (hopefully!). But when an expert in any field says they’ve looked into the metaphorical crystal ball, it’s wise to take this advice with a pinch of salt, lemon and a double shot of tequila. Especially when it relates to making sound business decisions.

In an attempt to fulfil one of my 2014 resolutions, I’ve made myself a reading list. The first book on my list; The Art of Thinking Clearly, by Rolf Dobelli. An interesting little book that won’t take you long to read but gives some psychological insights into the human condition. What Dobelli has written, essentially, is a list of tools to help you market effectively to people who aren’t thinking clearly. Well, that’s the way I’ve read it, and I now have a list of tools that I can use to help my clients.

Dobelli critically analyses his past mistakes, and guides the reader to understand their own. From errors in judgment like the scarcity error (meaning you give something more value simply due to its rarity), or loss aversion (where you place a higher cost on losing $25 than gaining $25), to the anchor (where the value something has is relative to the initial price set for that something). There are some 96 others so I won’t go through each in detail.

All of this pessimism and the negative perceptions of the human race lead me to ask a simple question; is my target audience ignorant? Or, should I target an ignorant audience? Read the book, and I’ll let you to decide. If you have, give me your thoughts in the comments.

The most interesting observation he made however, the one that really stuck with me, is the forecast illusion. In the earlier example, Philip Tetlock (a Professor of Psychology and Management at the University of Pennsylvania), evaluated 28,361 predictions made by 284 self appointed professionals over a period of 10 years, and the results show that the predications fared only marginally better than a random forecast generator. Surprised?

So what does this all mean, and what should you take away from this as you look at your 2014 planning and budgeting for digital marketing. When you read a prediction or an identified trend, analyse the individual who is making the claim. What incentive does the person have? How good is their success rate? Because ultimately, it is on this basis that you should either trust or distrust a prediction. Often times, your own analyses and predictions can be as good if not better than those made by ‘experts’.

As Dobelli puts it, “experts enjoy free rein with few negative consequences. If they strike it lucky, they enjoy publicity… If they are off the mark, they face no penalties.” In the end it is a win-win for the expert, and those losing in the equation are those who followed the poorly prescribed advice.

If you do however want to read some predictions for digital marketing and social media, look no further (not an endorsement of their predictions):

Photo credit: 32 Antique Ships Barometer by Jason short.