In American politics, bribery is not allowed, at least not publicly. For years, lobbyists saved time with elected officials by taking them out to dinner. Offer them a free dry-aged rib eye, and their attention will be yours for the next few hours — a cozy arrangement that has led to a glut of steakhouses just blocks from the Capitol.
In 2007, Congress was forced to act. The only question was how. You could say no dinners, but then they would just do lunch. No lunch? Breakfast. And the appetizers?
The result was known by his friends as “toothpick rule.” While meals were completely out, an exception was made for “food you must eat standing up using a toothpick”.
You know where this is taking us. There is now a whole industry of people, a “toothpick industry”, dedicated to finding different ways to work with the rules and bend them. “We had to get really smart with food delivery devices that [held items] substantial enough that if someone ate enough of it, it could make up a complete meal,” said Mark Michael of Occasions Caterers. Over the years, this has included 40 kinds of sticksfrom meat skewers to bamboo spears to dessert lollipops.
It’s absurd, isn’t it? Until you step back and consider the original intent of the rule: the goal was to reduce the influence of lobbyists on politicians. They went to too many dinners.
Based on that goal alone, did it work? Yes. He did what he planned to do. We went from three-hour steak dinners to cubes on a toothpick. Is it perfect? Absolutely not. But it is a step forward. It is progress.
What does the toothpick rule have to do with marketing measurement? It’s about starting somewhere, even if it’s small. Too many companies are stuck when developing a new program, a new strategy or a new interpretation of data.
They want everything to be perfect. They get lost in all the reasons why they think it won’t work or is incomplete. They don’t move forward until the data shines, until it’s collected without bias, until the models are proven and validated under all possible conditions. So they do nothing at all.
Many marketers try to find perfect solutions to their problems, which actually hinders their progress.
This is where startups stand out. Most are comfortable knowing that they don’t have all the data, all the answers. They’re not supposed to. They’re scrappy, they’re underfunded, they’re working in somebody’s garage. And they are okay with that.
They just need to keep moving until they prove the viability of their business. They will choose the 90% solution, just like the best companies in the world.
If you think that’s easier said than done, take a deep breath. Lower your expectations. Seek progress, not perfection. Trust that small, iterative changes will move you forward. Pick something small to change, measure it, and iterate. Here are some examples.
Instead of trying to construct an ideal personalization strategy, just add someone’s first name to the subject line of your email marketing campaigns can increase open rates by 20%, conversion rates by 31% and reduce unsubscribe rates by 17%.
While many companies engage in lengthy debates over the size and structure of their loyalty programs, one company found that the mere presence of a “spend $X, get $Y back” incentive contributed to an increase in the customer lifetime value (CLV) of participants. 29% customers. Surprisingly, only 2% of customers have ever redeemed a reward, suggesting psychological factors drove the improvement more than the economic ones.
The simple act of adding a new question to your customer satisfaction survey can lead to a significant change in consumer behavior. By asking “What did you particularly like about our product?” one retailer saw an 8% improvement in customer lifetime value (CLV), while a recognized b-to-b software publisher a 33% improvement in converting customers from their free product to a trial product.
As soon as the powers that be imposed the toothpick rule, it became clear that more work needed to be done. A rule designed to prevent lobbyists from buying lawmakers big, juicy steaks did its job, but then the industry adapted. Now the powers that be must do the same.
Many marketers try to find perfect solutions to their problems, which actually hinders their progress. If they had tried to rein in the strategy of the steakhouse lobbies, they wouldn’t have introduced a new bill until they were sure they had closed all the loopholes. This mindset underestimates the impact of small changes.
An imperfect stage is less attractive, less transformative. But the truth is that big patches are rare. It’s more productive to focus on what you can do each day to slightly improve your marketing practices.
These small improvements add up, but it’s the kind of improvements that many marketers ignore in favor of looking for the big fix, which will never come.
This article, which is adapted from “Converted: The Data-Driven Way to Win Customers’ Hearts” by Neil Hoyne, originally appeared on Think with Google.