The Fine Art of Throwing Spaghetti

2 min read • Mar 19, 2014 • Guest Post

I received a note from a fellow who said that for a guy who advocates evidence-based marketing, I seem to throw a lot of spaghetti at the wall.

Indeed. Throwing spaghetti is a vital part of marketing.

The alternative is simply to serve up a plate and hope it proves al dente. Trouble is, if you’ve misjudged, you’ll end up ruining an entire batch. Seems to me that investing in a bit of throwing might turn out less costly.

Likewise, I am all for serving up a consistent brand and message. What I am not all for is serving up an untested helping of it. Before you commit to a long-term marketing strategy, you might want to ensure it’s neither too hard nor too mushy.

As you prepare for your test throw, permit me to warn you about certain walls. Focus groups, for instance, are lousy walls. They can bring to light good information, but they are not predictive. No matter how many people in how many groups assure you that the ad you show them would induce them to open an account or apply for a loan, you cannot rely on it. Ask any psychologist: people cannot reliably predict their own behavior. For the same reason, do not rely on telephone research, mall intercepts, or any other form of qualitative or quantitative research. And for heaven’s sake, don’t ask your spouse, your kids, the board, or their spouses or their kids. They don’t know any more than anyone else. More likely they know less, due a phenomenon known as bias.

What to do? Hint: Don’t ask people what they think they’d do. Observe what they do—when they don’t know anyone is watching. Find a sample of real customers in a real setting, unleash your marketing on them, and surreptitiously watch what they do. At the same time, find a separate sample of real customers, unleash nothing on them at all, and watch them, too. If after a suitable amount of time you see no behavioral difference between the groups, chances are your marketing isn’t doing anything.

It’s not unusual for clients to balk at the idea of real world testing. It’s difficult to pull off (I have oversimplified the process here), it costs money, and it can delay a launch.

Those concerns address the wrong question. The real question is whether it’s wiser to serve up marketing that has proved al dente in the real world, or to take a chance on what people who haven’t a clue think would make them want to bank with you.


Steve Cuno

Steve Cuno is the founder of the RESPONSE Agency, a 20-year-old marketing firm in Salt Lake City. He has been a featured speaker of the American Advertising Federation, Direct Marketing Association, American Bankers Association, National Postal Forum, James Randi Educational Foundation and others. Steve is the author of the books Prove It Before You Promote It and The RESPONSE Agency Guide to Direct Mail, and of over 100 of articles appearing in DirectMarketingIQ, Deliver Magazine, Adnews, and other publications. (Always one for variety, Steve is also the as-told-to author of Joanne Hanks’ book It’s Not About the Sex My A**: Confessions of an Ex-Mormon Ex-Polygamist Ex-Wife.) In his spare time, he enjoys forcing people to look at photos of his grandchildren. He invites you to contact him at [email protected].