(Not So) Great Expectations

(Not So) Great Expectations

"My answer or edict to the industry is, “Stop lowering the bar so low just so you can jump over it”. Our industry service providers are by and large filled with pre-adolescent expectations."

I learned most of how to conduct business by being a family man. I learned what it means to have a relationship from my wife. No kidding. She taught me about the need to listen, to care, to give energy into a relationship. In short, she taught me how to be a good partner and I like to think that all of this has translated into my business relationships.

From being a father to my three sons, I learned many important lessons. I probably learned more from them than they did from me. But one of the things I did teach them was to raise their bar of expectations. What do I mean?

All my boys wanted to set the bar so low that success to jump over that bar was guaranteed. It is natural for children to get hooked on that exalted feeling of success and “failure” is not always easy to take. But my job as a Father was to push them to jump higher than they thought they could ever jump.

In short, I tried not to let them settle for feeling great about jumping over a bar set so low that anybody could simply step over.

My kids have grown, but I find myself doing the same thing for the online industry. Think about this. Click-Thru-rates for display banners hover about 3 inches off the ground…around .1% at last tally. So if you get results of .2%, some service provider will rush in to tell you that are twice the average and that is GREAT.

My answer or edict to the industry is, “Stop lowering the bar so low just so you can jump over it”. Our industry service providers are by and large filled with pre-adolescent expectations.

And for all of the pre-pubescent Big Data providers, get real. You cannot predict your way out of a paper bag and if the “magic algorithm” gets 4X the average CTR, that is still failing 99.6% of the time to predict the click. Failing 99.6% of the time is just one example of victimizing an industry with low expectations.

So, a good question to ask is; if results are so mediocre for Big Data initiatives, display banner placement or SEO, how is it that these initiatives garner so much attention? The answer goes way beyond the simple answer of providers being frauds. Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman pointed the way in his book, Thinking Fast and Slow.


Kahneman coined the term “theory-induced blindness.” Rather than me explaining what that is, here is a Kahneman quote that explains it:

   Theory-induced blindness: once you have accepted a theory and used it

   as a tool in your thinking, it is extraordinarily difficult to notice its flaws.

   If you come upon an observation that does not seem to fit the model,

   you assume that there must be a perfectly good explanation that you

   are somehow missing. You give the theory the benefit of the doubt,

   trusting the community of experts who have accepted it.
   --Daniel Kahneman Thinking Fast and Slow


Kahneman tried to identify how groups or communities could agree on something and be so wrong. He is not alone in trying to understand collective delusion. Thomas Kuhn was a philosopher of science and he wrote about this same phenomenon as it pertained to the most “objective” of all pursuits; science.


   Observation and experience can and must drastically restrict the

   range of admissible scientific belief, else there would be no science.

   But they cannot alone determine a particular body of such belief.

   An apparently arbitrary element, compounded of personal and

   historical accident, is always a formative ingredient of the beliefs

   espoused by a given scientific (also marketing) community at a

   given time.

   --Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions


Yes, even hard science is filled with people buying in to the most absurd propositions. George Washington reportedly died from being bled…a practice that hung around for 400 years even after being proven to cause more harm than good!


I am not suggesting that marketers should not test Big Data, small data, retargeting, buying ad words, or any other notion. I am squarely saying that marketers should not allow service providers to set the bar of expectations. You need to do that and hold THEM accountable.


It takes a tremendous effort not to buy in to groupthink. But if you want to succeed, that is exactly what you need to do.


Pip in Dickens’ novel raised his level of expectations to become successful. Our present industry participates in a race to the bottom and creates the illusion of success. We refuse to accept the tyranny of low expectations. To the online digerati I say, we’ve upped our expectations, now up yours! 

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