What are the risks of making assumptions?

Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.” ― Isaac Asimov

Most of us are guilty of making far too many assumptions and asking far too few questions.  How often have you been in a meeting when an executive said ”we know our audience thinks…”  Often they won’t know the audience at all, they will be making sweeping generalisations based on assumptions extrapolated from one or two data points.  Let’s take a moment to break a couple that are constantly regurgitated – not all millennials like avocados on toast.

When Communications professionals make assumptions about their target audience it’s primarily for two reasons; the first is a lack of financial or time resource to truly investigate their opinions and secondarily because of arrogance that “they know best.”  These assumptions can lead to poor messaging, inaccurate targeting and wasted expenditure.   Whether it is Pepsi and Kendal Jenner’s trivialisation of serious diversity issues, a tone deaf Brewdog designing a Pink IPA for girls, or Snapchat enraging the public with a campaign asking if people would like to slap Rihanna, communications professionals misunderstand the prevailing zeitgeist far too often.

People often cite the case of Steve Jobs and Apple being anti-market research, this simply wasn’t the case, it was the prevailing methods that they rejected such as using focus group insights to project assumptions onto a larger audience.  Apple’s protracted court battles with Samsung revealed they conduct detailed customer research especially amongst product users.

Stereotypes based on demographics such as age, gender and geography are still rolled out regularly across all agency marketing briefings.  Take an example of a media buyer in a recent meeting “put it this way, young people don’t read”.  A blasé comment that could if unchecked inform a multimillion-pound channel strategy.  This comes despite research by Intermedia revealing millennials make up around a fifth of both The Times’ and the FT’s audience.

So how to move forward?  Research can be expensive and time consuming, it therefore needs to work across multiple strands of the marketing mix informing agencies based on need be it for SEO, PR, onsite content etc.  Securing multi-agency input at the outset will help ensure the outcomes meet the multiplicity of need.  The checks and balances of this process will help erode assumptions that often see market research lead and reinforce a proposed strategy rather than inform it.

Reducing the number of assumptions made by the communications industry would see more creative campaigns developed, but also crucially they are more likely to deliver meaningful results and drive true behavioural change.


Written by Ewan Robertson, Executive Director 



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