Geoff Wolf, EVP Client Strategy

We make big decisions every day based on assumptions. When it comes to investing significant marketing dollars, we have to be very wary of these assumptions. Since we don’t have time to verify every piece of information that informs our marketing processes, we must create a system for determining which information is important enough to examine more thoroughly. In other words, some assumptions are more critical than others, depending on how many decisions hinge on those assumptions and how many dollars are attached to those decisions.

As we explore three simple steps for challenging assumptions, let’s use the following example:

“Transitioning marketing dollars from print to ecommerce is a good decision for your business today.”

  1. Ask: Does this assumption matter to me, and is it worth my time?

Only 20% of the assumptions I hear every day really matter to me. Of that 20%, only 20% of those assumptions have enough zeros behind them to be worth my time. In our example, if my print budget represents a large percentage of my overall marketing dollars AND I can act on this transition, I am now interested. The assumption has warranted a move to the next step: Learn more.

  1. Learn more: Has the assumption been validated somewhere in the past?

Review the narratives that serve as the foundation for any marketing assumption. While we may not be able to verify all the details, what matters is that more experts agree on a matter rather than disagree. There is safety in numbers! The more important the action, the larger the delta between agreement and disagreement must be.

For our example – that transitioning marketing dollars to ecommerce is a good business decision – I need to identify a number of successful campaigns, review each narrative and accept the results to my satisfaction. I also need to understand how much time has passed since those campaigns were successful, and if they have been repeatedly successful.

The elephant in the room is attribution, and how sales are allocated between print and ecommerce. In order to efficiently take on this daunting challenge, I like to focus mostly on the overlap between print and online investments. It is within the overlap that gold exists!

Profit and loss assumptions are another set of assumptions – a narrative that explains how the math is calculated in any business plan. To learn more, you must dig into the general ledger with the CFO or finance managers involved and validate that moving investments will create the desired results.

  1. Trust the behavioral model that brand is based on.

All businesses got their start based on a very specific customer behavior. A retail store was opened. A catalog was mailed. A sales force hit the streets and built the business. An ad ran in The Wall Street Journal for a specific product. Each assumption has to be proven in the context of that original foundation or a more recent customer behavior.

In the case of transitioning to an ecommerce marketing investment, the behavior of the existing customer is that context. If those customers already perceive the brand as a dot-com shopping experience, then investing more in digital initiatives makes sense. If not, the assumption must be challenged. It depends as much on the behavior of the brand’s customers as it does on what the marketing experts may be saying.

The unique behavioral foundation that represents each brand is the single, guiding light for challenging assumptions. Challenge that assumption’s value to your customer foundation.

“One’s first step in wisdom is to question everything – and one’s last is to come to terms with everything.” –Georg Lichtenberg

We all can do a better job of recognizing critical ideas as assumptions. It is all too easy to accept these because we are too busy to stop and challenge them. So take an hour later today to step back, listen to things more carefully, and ask which pivotal ideas may be assumptions.

As you recognize assumptions and are ready to reap the rewards, send Geoff an email at to ensure the investment is aligned with your customer behavior.

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