Thursday, 14 November 2019

Buyhaviour 10: Survivorship bias



Picture the end-scene of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom: the rickety bridge with the crocs snapping below. What's the odds of swimming across that river and surviving?

Now imagine, if you miraculously avoided getting eaten alive, that it was your job to do it again - and again and again. You'd be on a hiding to nothing. 


This was the lot of WW2 bomber pilots. They had to fly mission after mission across enemy lines in highly-vulnerable planes. 

To give them a fighting chance, airforce engineers found a way to lighten the aircraft so to add more armour, but they couldn't put it everywhere otherwise the plane would be too heavy. So, the question was: where should they attach the extra armour for maximum effectiveness? 

So they analysed their returned bombers, observed where bullet holes were clustered, and then 
proposed the armour be reinforced in the spots where the clusters were most dense. 

Pretty logical, right - protect where you can see takes the most bullets? 

Nope. It's a mental short-cut: the survivorship bias. The clusters actually show where the plane is the strongest, not weakest - the areas that could take damage and the plane return - the proof palpable. 

Marketers and advertisers are victim to this bias, too. It explains the irrational intoxication with loyalty and retention (targeting existing buyers). Let me translate a couple of the above lines for context:

To help save a brand, marketers were given a finite sum of funds. The only question: where should they allocate them? So they analysed their category, observed where their current customers clustered, and then proposed the funds be allocated towards them. 

In other words: a campaign reinforcing - like the bullet holes - where they're already strong. And like the bombers, at first glance, this feels logical (just ask Kevin Roberts), but it's not. 

"Retention is better than acquisition, is one of the most enduring myths of marketing... In reality, potential gains from acquisition dwarf the potential gains from retention." (Sharp & Newstead 2010)

If you actually want your brand (airplane) to survive and be successful you need to pay attention to the customers (bullet holes) you don't have. 'Pay' being the operative word, because you need to generally 'pay' to reach them; then nudge them into becoming buyers.

And, if you're after evidence, look no further than Disney - the smartest advertisers on the planet - and how they marketed the new Star Wars: The force is strong in this placement

Byron Sharp and Kate Newstead, ‘Loyalty is not the Holy Grail’, Admap, September 2010

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