CMWorld 2013: Circular logic and my obligatory 5 tips

After all the interesting sessions I attended at Content Marketing World this year, and the healthy amounts of booze-aided side conversations with other marketers, I’ve returned to my home of Denver with a lot of insights to unpack.

But one topic that came up during a seemingly innocuous conversation over a glass of whisky has stuck with me. My unnamed cohort in this was a salesman. Initially, he was trying to sell me his product, until he realized I wasn’t important enough to buy it. But we got to talking, and had a rather in-depth and pleasantly interesting conversation about circular logic.

For non-philosophy majors/baristas, I’ll quickly define circular logic (or circular reasoning). First, let’s talk about the anatomy of a basic argument. Of course, there are many different flavors, but for our purposes, a basic argument is made up of (1) a premise and (2) a conclusion. A conclusion must have a preceding premise. Without a premise, a conclusion is unfounded. Circular logic occurs when you use a conclusion (which needs a premise, remember) as the premise of another argument.

Here’s the example argument from my salesman friend:

Argument “(1) When prospects tour our facility, our close rates are over 50 percent, (2) so we should be pushing prospects in our campaign to tour our facility.”

On the surface, it seems like common sense. If close rates greatly improve during a tour, then we should try and enter prospects into that same environment that fosters high close rates.

The problem is, the premise is obviously assumed (and most likely the conclusion of another argument). Not only that, but to reach the conclusion masquerading as the premise, we have to do some serious backtracking.

Let’s see where the salesman’s premise likely came from and take another look at his argument.

Argument “(1) When prospects tour our facility, our close rates are over 50 percent, (2) so we should be pushing prospects in our campaign to tour our facility.”

If his premise is in fact a conclusion, let’s try and find the original premise to which it corresponds. The first question should be: how do you get prospects to tour the facility? Likely, they have to engage with either your salespeople or marketing materials. If engagement is required, then maybe the premise is:

(1) When prospects are engaged, (2) they are willing to tour our facility.

Our second question should be: do all engaged prospects tour the facility? In this case, 30% of the engaged prospects went on a tour. That could be a behavioral indicator of where these particularly engaged prospects are in their buying journey.

Let’s just call that “motivated to buy.” If we were to diagram this out, it might look like this:

100 engaged prospects => 30 motivated buyers/facility tours => 16 sales.

So now let’s distill that all down and recast the salesman’s argument:

New Argument “(1) of our motivated prospects that tour our facility, (2) we have a 50+ percent close rate.”

What can we infer from that information that could help us ramp the close rate up and expand to other marketing efforts?

My guess is, very little. Facility tours might not make all prospects motivated or engaged. We need to start there.

As marketers, a large part of our job is to find simple solutions to complex problems. An important distinction, though, is where in the strategy phase you simplify. At which point do you truly know about prospect behavior?

Simplify too early in your discovery and you end up basing important campaign decisions on circular logic. And that’s where campaigns go to die, folks.

My obligatory 5 tips on circular logic:

  1. When it comes to campaign strategy, overthink early. Learn as much as time and scope allow about your buyers’ behaviors and, most importantly, why they behave that way.
  2. Talk to human beings. I’m serious about this one. The Internet is an expansive grab bag of useful information, but it can’t replace actual human interaction (no, Chat Roulette doesn’t count). Reading a blog post by a target persona is not a substitute for talking to the writer and asking about his pain points. Is he hyper aware of marketing? Does this negatively affect his engagement? Maybe he didn’t write about that, but he has strong feelings and ends up chewing your ear off for 15 minutes. Congratulations. You just learned something very important—for this group, marketing best practices probably won’t work because the prospect understands he’s being marketed to and leaves the page. So pick up the phone. Take some folks out for a drink. Interact and learn.
  3. You earn the right to simplify when you become an expert on your target personas. As an agency, you should set out to know more about your clients’ buyers than your clients do. As a marketer, you should become your company’s Subject Matter Expert on buyer personas. No matter where or for whom you work, you need to be able to back your claims with solid discovery work—and credible, provable insights.
  4. Play the devil’s advocate often. Ideas need to survive the challenges and opposition hurled their way before they’re worth considering. Remember, your career and your clients’ revenues are at stake.
  5. When you argue on behalf of campaign strategy, make sure you know the genesis of your argument and that it’s based on sound logic. A smart client/boss should rip apart your ideas, and you need to be prepared to point to the evidence that led you to this particular strategy. When you think you have a decent argument, backtrack in the same way we did above with the salesman’s argument. Your campaigns will be better. Optimizing them will be easier. And most of all, you can sleep at night knowing you’re basing important, potentially career-changing decisions on a solid logical foundation.

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