Steve Cuno on Guess-free, Waste-free Marketing
In the preface of his recent book “Prove It Before You Promote It” (Wiley & Sons), Steve Cuno says that cutting marketing because sales are down is like reducing insulin when a patient’s diabetes has gotten worse. But while marketing’s role shouldn’t be diminished, Cuno illustrates how it can be far better played.
Drawing on his decades of direct marketing experience, Cuno—chairman of The RESPONSE Agency in Midvale, Utah—focuses on the fact that advertising was invented to sell, not simply create awareness. After all, high awareness doesn’t translate into marketing success, and big dollars are wasted by continuing campaigns that have not been critically challenged.
Boldt: What is the “marketing mythology” that your book aims to debunk?
Cuno: The big one is the idea that “what everyone knows” is fact. “Two million people can’t be wrong.” Yes, they can. A few years ago, we all knew that stress caused ulcers; doctors knew it, everyone knew it. But it wasn’t true.
Another one that I go after? “Your gut intuition is not infallible.” In fact, statistically speaking, it’s probably wrong half or most of the time. And that’s significant because I’ve seen one big decision after another made because somebody thought their gut was never wrong.
“Creativity is the preeminent determinant of advertising success.” That’s a myth. “Correlation as causation.” If you dig hard enough and you use enough selection bias and hindsight bias, you’re going to be able to establish a correlation between award-winning advertising or likable advertising or highly creative advertising and successful products. And that can lead you to decide that creative, award-caliber or likable advertising is a predeterminant for success. It’s a myth. Creativity is important, but it’s not the sole determinant of success.
Boldt: What about the value of surveys and focus groups?
Cuno: “Your surveys and your focus groups are predictive.” That’s a myth. You gather people in a room and say, “What would you do if you saw this commercial?” If they all say, “We’d buy the product!” you think you have a winner on your hands, and you roll it out.