An Acceptable Margin Of Error Can Be A Good Thing
There's a margin of error in the traditional media business that to date has not been accepted in the digital business. In traditional media, research and analysis are based on sample sizes of 2,000 here and 10,000 there. Decisions for millions are based on the behavior of a few thousand -- an acceptable margin of error for those businesses. Why can't that be the case in digital media?
The fact is, it can't because we have so much more data in digital media, and people hold us responsible to make up the difference. The lack of data and proof in traditional media translates to a desire for over-reporting and over-analysis in digital, but that level of perfectionism can burn out the digital business and the people that drive the bus, so to speak.
We in digital media are held to a different standard than what the world truly requires. This breeds a lack of confidence and doubt, because nothing can be done perfectly. In our business it drives the balance towards the science and away from the art, but our business is based on that balance.
The margin of error in advertising and marketing favors creativity, while the perfectionism favors science. The days of "Mad Men" were heavily weighted toward art, with a wide margin for error (hence the three-martini lunches). In a business with an acceptable margin of error, you can afford to make a mistake. That mistake will be evaluated, and you move on. In a world dominated by data and perfectionism you have to rationalize every decision in advance in order to avoid any mistakes. It's a risk-averse environment, one that doesn't lend itself to much creative thought.
I'm not trying to resurrect the debate between art and science; I'm simply using that argument to make a point. The point is that a margin of error in this business should be accepted and embraced, and your team or agency partner should be empowered to make a mistake here and there. It's that kind of thinking and empowerment that brings us creative ideas, like what Apple recently ran with ESPN. It's that kind of thinking that creates the Old Spice social media campaign. Back when I worked at IUMA (the Internet Underground Music Archive) this kind of thinking enabled us to run the "Name Your Baby IUMA" sweepstakes, in which 11 lucky people named their newborn child after our website in exchange for $5,000 each. Not the kind of campaign that a highly data-driven business in today's marketplace would allow, but one that doubled our traffic for a period of time.
Shedding your perfectionist cloak allows for a little more balance, a little less stress and a little more freedom to try and test some new ideas. As you enter into 2011, think about what a little less perfectionism and a little more margin of error will do for your employees and your business. You might come up with something unique and great!Happy holidays, everyone -- see you next year!!