Science vs. Sentiment: Measuring Marketing Effectiveness

This week’s speaker at Ringling College Library Association’s Town Hall lecture series was Dr. Roland Fryer—a 34-year-old tenured economics professor at Harvard University and leader of its Education Innovation Laboratory (EdLabs).

Dr. Roland Fryer

Like countless reformers before him, Fryer thinks he knows how to close the disgraceful educational achievement gap between black and white children in the U.S. Unlike other reformers, Fryer came to his conclusions by testing every likely theory—from incentive pay to longer school hours—in the data-rich charter schools. (His five best practices are fascinating for what they include and exclude; EdLabs has since tested them successfully in the Houston and Denver public schools.)

When he shared his eureka moment with his wife—a mathematician working in chemotherapy efficacy—she thought his job was over. Public schools would obviously follow EdLabs’ best practices, right? After all, that’s the way it works in medicine: If several hospitals demonstrate conclusive success in treating, say, early onset Alzheimer’s, every hospital in the country will descend on them to learn and replicate their techniques.

But the U.S. educational profession doesn’t work like the U.S. medical profession. Educators and their constituencies are not scientists, and as a whole are not math or statistics-savvy. Fryer says most educators use “the cardiac test:” when asked how they know a certain technique has worked, often as not their response is “you can feel it in your heart.”

I’m afraid we still use something close to the cardiac test in evaluating marketing effectiveness—even as we rely more and more on data-rich electronic marketing. Who out there is doing unbiased, unsentimental, sound statistical research on what works and what doesn’t in asset management marketing?

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