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Yellow and Blue balloons off-target concept

Marketers Are Facing a Crisis of Precision

J. Walker Smith

Yellow and Blue balloons off-target concept

Predictive skills require a willingness to weed out entrenched cognitive biases and established decision-making processes built into corporate culture

Marketing is in the midst of a precision crisis. The new world facing marketers has been described in many ways, each accurate in its own way, but none speaks to the fundamental shift now roiling marketing. Pundits preach second-order consequences of a deeper transformation at the very foundation of marketing. That transformation is one of precision.

The most over-used quote in marketing is the variously attributed statement to the effect that half of all marketing or advertising is wasted, we just don’t know which half. It’s a tired, old saw but it captures the very essence of marketing. This is the existential kernel of marketing, or the basic reality that has shaped how marketing is conceptualized, designed and executed. Simply put, marketing has been built on a presumption of imprecision.

Perhaps nothing illustrates this presumption better than the media model introduced in 1961 by the Advertising Research Foundation, developed to sort and organize various metrics for evaluating ad buys. It was depicted graphically as a left-to-right winnowing down of an audience, not the upside-down pyramid of consumer decision-making that it was turned into later. Either way, it represented marketing as a process of management through imprecision.

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J. Walker Smith

J. Walker Smith is chief knowledge officer for brand and marketing at Kantar Consulting and co-author of four books, including Rocking the Ages. Follow him on Twitter at @jwalkersmith.​