Why crowd-based solutions reflect marketing spend more than inherent quality:
Looking at a page of Google search results, it’s understandable to assume that the results that don’t say, “paid” aren’t there because someone spent money.
Unfortunately, it’s just not true.
Even if Google, Facebook, Bing or Yahoo!, social aggregators or review sites, all somehow learn how to ignore the spammers and the marketers and capture only the sentiment of users who aren’t compensated for their use, the advice is unlikely to be much better.
We, people, base our preferences on brand value and how many times we’ve heard a name, are programmed to prefer what we’ve chosen before, and will lie in online reviews to reward or punish.
Marketing spend predicts perceived value:
In pre-agricultural society, looking to popular or familiar sources made good sense for life-and-death decisions: the water source that most people are drinking from is much less likely to possess lethal bacteria, the cave that many are sleeping in is unlikely to contain predators. In more modern society we might reason that popularity and availability are fairly good predictors of value, after all, someone must have done the research, right?
All of this ignores that in modern society, what’s popular and what is familiar have both been hacked by brand managers.
On the other side of brands, brand marketers spend a lot of time figuring out how much their marketing spend is worth. Turns out, marketing spend predicts the majority of brand value, trumping product development spend. We prefer the shoes worn by athletes, beers that seem to attract attractive people – the panoply of images that about $1,000 of advertising per year per American transmits.
Why we’re wrong about what’s good:
With no other information, trusting crowds isn’t a bad idea. It’s a way to take the benefit of the research of others, imagining that a choice became popular through merit. However, once someone has chosen something, they tend to prefer it. The reason is simple: either the $300 headphones I bought while working for minimum wage in college are fantastic, or I’ve made a mistake. I don’t like thinking that I made a mistake, so I passionately defend the headphones even when others are proven to be lighter, have better sound, and are cheaper.
On top of that, add aggressive marketing and the idea that nobody ever got fired for buying the popular choice. Suddenly, we’re buying Coke even though we objectively prefer the taste of half-cost alternatives. We fight to explain why it’s a rational choice, maybe buy some stock in the company, and perhaps say a nice thing or two about it on a message board.
Why we lie about what’s good:
A new video game is announced by a revolutionary producer. Robin Williams plays the game for an audience and it’s not only enjoyable to watch, but it carries with it the promise that games will be radically changed. You fall in love with the game long before it’s released to favorable critical reviews. You pay $50, install a copy and discover that you haven’t bought the game but only the right to install it a few times. Do you give an honest review of the fun of the game or punish the producer? On Amazon, many proudly lied.
Video games not your speed? Let’s try one cribbed from the terrific “Sway”. You’re sitting, watching on the set of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire”, the lights flashing, the host eyebrow-raising, and the contestant sweating. With thousands on the line, “Which of these orbits the earth?
A) The Sun
B) The Moon”
Utterly bewildered, the contestant looks first to his wife and then, with rising panic, at you. Reaching out to you for help, do you give the right answer or blithely lie? Do you prefer that wealth be transferred to the clueless fellow before you, or would you rather the show’s producers hold on to it? In France, many proudly lied.
How you can help:
If the growing power of marketing is something that you care about, please reach out and please help. Pikimal allows users to prioritize individual facts to meet their needs and learns over time how different users prioritize facts. By focusing on the fact-level, we’re able to give results that are better at meeting a certain need or which are ideal for a certain use. Our long-term goal is that we make marketing less influential and product design more important.
We need help to identify which facts need to be included, fields where fact-based decision-making is more important, and category experts to help us refine our approach and help identify the most important priorities.