Black Box Marketing

Greg Lowe

September 4, 2014

Magic tricks come in many varieties, from bunnies and black hats to coins and cards. In all their variety, though, many of the greatest illusions share one thing in common: a phenomenon known figuratively as the black box. The black box is the hidden process, transformation, or development that occurs between an input and an output. For many magicians, a top hat provides the perfect black box – a place to transform a handkerchief into a rabbit, leaving the audience to ponder the process. Black boxes are not unique to magic. In fact, they exist in many fields, from medicine to entomology, and marketing is no exception.

While black boxes can be pleasantly perplexing in magic, they can be altogether infuriating to professional marketers. In fact, if your marketing feels like magic, your business is probably headed for trouble. Marketing should be an objective, understandable, and repeatable process. All to often, though, marketers understand their inputs (promotional methods and mediums) and their outputs (sales and revenue results), but have no idea what’s happening in between. Perhaps, it was this conundrum that inspired the common quip, “Half my advertising is wasted, I just don’t know which half.”

Fortunately, new mediums and other developments have provided a peek into the mysterious black box of marketing. More than ever before, marketers have the ability to know what is happening in between their inputs and their outputs. In many cases, this additional information allows for better targeting and more efficient spending. Specifically, the following tricks and tactics can be useful for understanding the process in between effort and outcome.

On-Site Analytics

Web analytics now allow marketers to know where visitors come from, how long they stay, and what content they consume. More importantly, these analytics allow for conversion tracking, or the ability to see exactly where sales originate. Using simple and free platforms, it is now possible to track a website visitor all the way from entry to purchase. When conversions are low, savvy marketers examine where visitors are exiting the funnel and adjust their sites accordingly.

Platform Tracking

Just as analytics can show what is happening behind the curtains of an owned web asset, platform-specific metrics can provide insight into additional online assets. Most social media platforms now provide useful metrics for analyzing the demographics and behavioral trends of a page’s audience. Ad exchanges and other paid promotional platforms provide similar sets of metrics.

Traditional Marketing

Online marketing methods have made it easier than ever to understand consumer behavior. But smart marketers aren’t content to understand only their online advertising. Using campaign-specific phone numbers, URLs, coupons, and promotional codes, companies are gaining a better understanding of the effectiveness of offline advertising. Traditional market research, including awareness testing and checkout polling, can also provide valuable insight.

With all of the new technologies and methods available, companies should no longer accept the illusion that marketing is a mysterious process. Using a few simple tricks, anyone can begin to understand the true magic of marketing. By pulling back the curtain and peeking into the black box, companies will achieve a new level of understanding that drives efficiency and produces consistent results.