More Likely To Purchase: Quantipulation In Action

How many times this week have you heard about some research study that found that one consumer segment is XX% more likely to purchase your products than another segment?

These studies and claims come out every day. And every one of them is a shining example of Quantipulation: The art and act of using unverifiable math and statistics to convince people of what you believe to be true.

The problem with these “more likely to purchase” claims is that they’re leading you to make bad marketing decisions.

For example, it’s popular these days to claim that Facebook fans are an important segment of your customer base because they’re “more likely to purchase” than other customers are. DDB (a very reputable advertising and marketing services firm) conducted a study last year and found that:

“Facebook users who like a brand’s page on the site are thirty-three percent more likely to buy a product, and 92 percent more likely to recommend a product to others. “Fan status is indicative of high purchase intent, especially when compared to any traditional form of advertising, and is an even greater predictor of advocacy with over 90% noting that being a fan has a positive impact on recommending a brand to friends,” said Catherine Lautier, Director of Business Intelligence at DDB.”

The implication of this is that: 1) If marketers can drive up their brands’ Facebook fan count, then more customers will become more likely to buy, and 2) Marketers should focus their marketing efforts on Facebook fans because of higher purchase likelihood.

But there are a few problems here:

1. What does “more likely to purchase” mean? If in a survey Customer A (Facebook fan) says he’s “very likely to purchase” and Customer B (non-Facebook fan) says he’s “somewhat likely to purchase”, what does this really tell you? How much more likely is “very likely” than “somewhat likely”? Isn’t timeframe important? Is that very likely to buy in the next 2 weeks or very likely to buy at some point in the future? Even if Customer B says “not likely”, does that mean we should give up on marketing to him? Really? People don’t change their opinions? After all, he’s already a customer — and isn’t the cost of acquisition 5x higher than the cost of retention?

2. The absolute numbers might not be compelling. In the DDB study, only 36% of Facebook fans said that they were very likely to purchase. Which means that 27% of non-Facebook fans were very likely to purchase (you do the math). Assume that your company has 10 million customers, of which 1 million are Facebook fans. That means you’ve got 360,00 Facebook fans who are very likely to purchase, and 2, 430,000 non-Facebook fans that are very likely to purchase. Which group do you want to market to?

3. Causation versus correlation. Do Facebook fans become “more likely to purchase” after becoming Facebook fans, or did the fact that they were already “more likely to purchase” lead them to become Facebook fans? Granted, their act of becoming a Facebook fan helps marketers better identify them out of the pack. But if — as the numbers above indicate — the differences in likelihood to purchase aren’t that compelling, then it’s simply not a very helpful segmentation tool.

Bottom line: Don’t be quantipulated into believing these “more likely to purchase” claims.

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2 thoughts on “More Likely To Purchase: Quantipulation In Action

  1. #3 is exactly what I thought when I read that blurb. You’d have to think that a director of business intelligence would know the difference between causation and correlation, which suggests this was intentional deception vs. unintentional incompetence. I’m not sure which depresses me more.

  2. The trick is to insert the statement, “of course, correlation does not mean causation” somewhere in the lengthy prose and then go on to imply (subtly or overtly) causation. The audience these people are writing for either lack or willfully suspended their skepticism and will treat it as causation.

    To Dan’s comment, there is no correlation between titles and knowledge 🙂
    -Rags

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