Hans Rosling’s bestseller Factfulness gives us ten reasons we are wrong about the world and why things are better than we think, which gives a powerful argument as to why experts are usually so wrong about their understanding of the world and why having a clear grasp of data is vital.

From Economists to Digital Marketers, today’s world relies on us forgetting our instincts and being able to understand the data.

Digital Marketers have no excuse for not backing up or contradicting their instincts these days given the in-depth data that is available at our fingertips. From the trusty stalwart of Google Analytics, across SEMRush and Hotjar, Adwords and Facebook’s advertising tools there’s simply no reason not to understand the customer and their activity better than ever before.

According to Rosling, when polled on the real world, experts from all walks of life simply get their world facts wrong. Whether they are CEO’s, financiers, NGO’s or school children they are always outperformed by a troupe of chimpanzees, i.e. we are all so misinformed in our opinions about the world that we perform significantly worse than picking a random answer.

For example, take the question:
“There are roughly 7 billion people in the world today. Which map shows best where they live, A, B or C?”.

This question is actually one that humans do comparatively well at, they perform almost as well as our fictional chimpanzees! Yes, that’s right only 70% of people pick the wrong map! If we can be this wrong about such a fundamental characteristic and observation of the world around us, then what else are we getting wrong?

People in Europe need to understand that most of the world’s population lives in Asia. In terms of economic muscle “we” are becoming the 20%, not the 80%.

McKinsey’s Global Research concurs, the economic centre of the world is shifting, and in a worldwide market place, it is short-sighted not to consider this fact. By taking a view of your competition, audience or market from a UK or even European perspective risks shutting out the biggest audience in the world.

Take the latest Factfulness quiz on the Gapminder website and let us know how well you did? Can you perform better than the fictional troupe of chimpanzees?

So next time you hear a digital marketing expert tell you what their instinctive thought about something is, don’t listen: switch off and pick the opposite option!

Why are the experts getting it all so wrong across all industries?

It’s because of our innate human bias where we use our gut instinct. This became finely honed as we evolved as hunter-gatherers and worked successfully to ensure our survival in harvesting nature’s resources and not being eaten by wild animals, but it is now hopelessly out of touch with the modern world.

One of our clients, Engage in Learning offers training courses on how to deal with unconscious bias in the workplace and have a white paper on the subject here.

According to Rosling, we have 10 inbuilt biases which explain why we are so wrong about our understanding of the world around us. In Digital marketing we’re especially concerned by the “Generalisation Instinct”, where humans automatically categorise and generalise which applies to marketing audiences and personas, and the “Size Instinct” where we see a large number in our results but don’t stop to consider the bigger picture. Each of these biases was once vital for survival in our long-extinct hunter-gatherer world but are now a real barrier to analysis in the modern digital world.

So next time you are presented with an opinion from an expert try asking them what the data says. They have the tools, they have the data at their fingerprints, ignore their and your bias and delve deep into the real-world information to understand why that campaign worked, this campaign didn’t perform as well and what you should test next.

It’s why here at Now|Comms, despite having decades of marketing experience, we put so much emphasis on Eric Reis’ Lean Startup methodology of Build, Measure, Learn; we start with our best guess (acknowledging all its inherent bias) and then test in the wild with a Minimum Viable Product, measure the impact, look at the data, and make evidential based changes and repeat until we have the results we need.

The way people understand the world is fundamentally broken but we have the tools to give us the insight we need.

Of course, marketing is (in)famous for tapping into humanity’s inherent biases to help sell more product, so it’s not all bad news! Check out next month’s blog for more on how we can work with and not against our animal brain.

The time for guesswork is over.

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