Critical Thinking: Your Most Valuable Marketing Skill

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This morning, I was reading an article in Entrepreneur Magazine. It’s all about color theory – a fascinating area of study, really; delving into the biological and behavioral responses we exhibit when we encounter a certain hue or color scheme – and the impact color theory should have upon us, as marketers.

One assertion made in the article was that the different genders have different responses to color. Women prefer blue, purple and green; men prefer blue, green, and black. Nobody loves orange.

I wonder if anyone’s told Home Depot about color theory.

The relationship between behavioral science and marketing wisdom is deliciously ambiguous. If they had to post a status on Facebook, “It’s Complicated” would definitely apply. There’s a reason for this. Science moves slowly: the process of observing, measuring, and analyzing phenomenon takes time, as does using the data derived to create and test theories. That image of a researcher working diligently in the lab for years and years at a time? Has a basis in reality.

Marketing, on the other hand, knows that time is money. While it’s easy to see that there’s value in having a theory tested to the nth degree, Marketing doesn’t require that any idea be tested 100% before it’s willing to try it out to see if sales improve as a result. Marketing values speed and is willing to take chances.

That’s fine, as long as no one winds up confusing a scientific theory with a marketing fact. According to color theory, orange should be a disastrous branding choice for Home Depot, whose target market is largely male. Yet here we are, with Home Depot dominant in their sector with branding that is overwhelmingly, unquestionably, inarguably orange.


How did that happen?

It turns out that there are many, many factors thought to influence human behavior. Every one of those factors has an associated theory, for there is no detail of existence so insignificant that it escapes the attention of academics in search of steady employment. For every color theorist that says orange is not a great branding color, there’s a Jungian who could argue that orange’s well established relationship with safety and construction evoke the builder archetype, making it the only possible brand color that makes sense for a home improvement store.

As a business owner, you get to decide what theories you’re going to allow to guide your marketing decisions. Critical thinking skills are your friend. You don’t have to accept any particular piece of promotional wisdom just because that’s what you’re told. Ask yourself if the theory makes sense; if the assertions made line up with what you’ve actually seen and experienced. Consider the background and credentials of the theory’s source. There’s a difference between the insights you hear from a highly respected expert and random internet person; you’ll want to make sure you’re weighing information appropriately.

Remember that scientific theories are exactly that: theories. The fact that a particular phenomenon can be observed in a controlled experimental environment doesn’t necessarily translate into a seamless marketing application. Remember, everybody hates orange – except for Home Depot’s legions of customers.

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Critical Thinking: Your Most Valuable Marketing Skill
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Critical Thinking: Your Most Valuable Marketing Skill
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There's a fine line between scientific theory and successful marketing. Learn how to walk it and why your critical thinking may be worth more to your bottom line.
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