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The Audience Humiliates You Every Day… And Why That’s A Good Thing

May 22, 2018

Here’s a line that got my attention recently:

Digital marketing works because the audience humiliates you each and every day.

Mike Johnston goes on to explain why that’s a good thing:

Audiences know. That’s why digital marketers have so much success. They test different approaches in front of different audiences. The audience tells them what works best.

Why test? We get too close to our own ideas. We become defensive, blind to weaknesses and potential problems.blank vertical space, 32 pixels high

wisdom of audience colective judgement evaluation better than individual's one guy thumbs-up group including dog voting thumbs-down

blank vertical space, 32 pixels highLegendary film director Billy Wilder said: “The audience is never wrong.” He also explained why: “Every single person out there is an idiot, but collectively they’re a genius.”

He took their advice re the opening scene of his famous film, Sunset Boulevard. The final released version opens with William Holden’s character floating face down in a swimming pool.

Wilder’s original concept was different: a city morgue scene where the corpse tells his sad story to the other dead bodies. Preview audiences roared with laughter at the scene. Wilder cut it, and opened with the body floating in the pool, with Holden doing voice-over narration to tell the story of his demise.blank vertical space, 32 pixels highWilliam Holden floating dead in swimming pool opening scene Billy Wilder movie Sunset Boulevard

blank vertical space, 32 pixels highBrands and marketing agencies use A/B testing to see which of two concepts works best. For example: which version of a web page gets more engagement. You can use the same approach for Facebook ad campaigns.

(For more information about Facebook ads, see Jamie Doerschuck’s Ultimate Guide To Facebook Ads.)blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

But testing costs money. What if you’re a one-person shop or a small business with a limited budget?

You can still experiment with different approaches on your site: different layouts and calls to action, for example. Same with content. WordPress Stats and Google Analytics are free tools that will tell you what posts are generating the most engagement. Social media platforms like Twitter also provide analytics that tell you what’s working and what’s not.

blank vertical space, 16 pixels highSo: is the crowd always right?

Ah, there’s the rub. There are “rules” for every art form: writing, art, music composition, marketing– you name it. You have to know the rules, and sometimes you have to break them.

Take Billy Wilder again. He made Sunset Boulevard in 1950. He made Some Like It Hot, another famous classic, in 1959. Entertainment columnist Paul Whitington writes:

“The producers wanted to tinker with the finished film after it screened poorly for test audiences, but Wilder stood his ground. ‘This is a very funny movie,’ he said, ‘and I believe in it just as it is.'”

The American Film Institute ranks Some Like It Hot, starring Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, and Marilyn Monroe, as the greatest comedy of all time.blank vertical space, 32 pixels highTony Curtis Jack Lemmon Marilyn Monroe all-girl band rehearsal scene Billy Wilder movie Some Like It Hot

blank vertical space, 32 pixels highAnd I wrote in an earlier post how Anheuser-Busch decided to go with their famous “Dilly, Dilly!” ads even though they didn’t test well. Anheuser-Busch InBev Chief Marketing Officer Miguel Patricio said, “We went against the research and we gave a chance to ‘Dilly Dilly’ and we are so happy!”blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

It makes sense to test your ideas against an audience. It also makes sense to trust your instincts.

The two things are sometimes in conflict. I think marketers need to acknowledge that.

wisdom of audience colective judgement evaluation better than individual's one guy thumbs-up group including dog voting thumbs-down Mike Johnston Family Seattle digital marketers successful because test different creative ideas approaches

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About Mark: I’m an illustrator specializing in humor, branding, social media, and content marketing. I create images that get content seen and shared.

You can view my portfolio, and connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Questions? Send me an email.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Margy permalink
    May 23, 2018 10:26 AM

    I’m reading a book called The Power of Habit. Consumer habits are just another piece of the puzzle that can make one thing successful and the other a flop!


    • May 23, 2018 5:25 PM

      Hi, Margy! The Power of Habit… man, that’s the truth! If only we appreciated their power during our formative years. We tend to fall into them, and they’re not easy to break– if you’ll excuse the understatement of all-time! Habits certainly work to advantage if you’re a brand. Another piece of the marketing puzzle for sure! Fortunately, you and your blog are good habits of mine… 😊


  2. RKLikesReeses permalink
    June 4, 2018 1:12 PM

    Excellent! Wow! ::applause:: I hope all the people who need this read it bec it’s going to help them. 🙂


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