When the “Set It and Forget It” Approach to Marketing Decisions No Longer Applies

For CEOs, company presidents, and directors of marketing alike, there are seemingly hundreds of micro decisions that need to be made every day. Most of these decisions – or at least the most important ones – boil down to the single question, “Is this the best use of our time/money/resources, or would an alternative use be preferable?”

The trouble is, the human brain is faced with something that cognitive scientists and economists call “bounded rationality.” This means, in short, that there are limits to our cognitive powers and to the information available to us about any given decision we face. The concept was invented by the Nobel-prize winning social scientist, Herbert Simon, as an alternative to purist decision-making theories that required the fictitious assumption of wholly rational actors who have access to unlimited, accurate and timely information about any situation.

Cutting through all of the academic mumbo-jumbo, the important take-away in Simon’s thinking is that we all make decisions every day that are good enough (or what Simon called “satisficing”), since at some level we know that we cannot possibly know every important facet of every decision we make. In other words, we more times than not just end up “winging it.” We can just “set it and forget it.” And, that’s probably okay.

While admitting to the fact that reality never fully reveals itself to us and that we must often make important decisions by the seat of our pants, CEOs and other executives who make marketing decisions on a daily basis need to know when to avoid the temptation to just wing it. They need to know when the situation calls for engaging in rational, careful, numbers-based decision-making. That is, there are some decisions – those that form the bedrock of our entire marketing campaigns – that require more than a mere satisficing solution. Any decision whose outcome could significantly affect marketing return on investment (ROI) is one that requires a careful, rational approach.

For example, when it comes to figuring out who your best prospects are and how to properly reach out to them, the decision is a crucial one because all future marketing decisions will flow from the direction we set for ourselves at this point. We owe it to ourselves and the organizations for which we work to take the time to model our best customers and then apply that model to locating and targeting our very best prospects.

In today’s world, “set it and forget it” marketing is unavoidable for many of the smaller decisions we make each day. However, smart managers know when it is time to exercise a disciplined approach toward making the “big” marketing decisions that potentially have a very large impact on the bottom line.