The Illusion of Knowledge

Let’s start with another question from the Factfulness Test that we talked about last time.

In all low-income countries across the world today, how many girls finish primary school…(a) 20% (b) 40% (c) 60%?

The correct answer is 60%.  Those of you who got this right have learned the lesson from last time.  Pick the most positive answer!

However, most people get this answer wrong.  Indeed, they get most of the answers wrong in the Factfulness Test.  And the more educated you are, the more likely you are to get the answers wrong.

The more you think you know, the less you actually know.

Hans Rosling who devised the test (and wrote the book “Factfulness”) said it was his lifelong vision to “fight against devastating global ignorance”.  He had a twofold approach.  Demonstrate that we know much less than we think we know.  Then give people techniques to help them build their knowledge and understand the world better.

The need for this has never been greater.  We live in a world where we have access to more information than ever before but less real knowledge than ever before.  A world where we don’t need to remember things because we can Google them.  A world where “fake news” is now an everyday phrase.  A world where people try to talk about “alternative facts”.

As Stephen Hawking said, “the greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge”.

Not knowing something isn’t great.  Thinking you know something when you don’t is even worse.

Why are we talking about this?  Well, most companies are not short of information.  They have lots of research.  Lots of data.  Lots of analysis.  But we often find that the more information there is, the less companies really know.

Do enough people really know the things they need to know?  Do they know who actually buys their product?  Do they know when their product is used?  Do they know why it is bought? Or why it isn’t bought?

We think that most companies need to develop their own Factfulness Test.  It would be based around the fundamentals.  The things that key people in marketing, category and sales need to know.

The test would do two things (1) give you a benchmark of what people know now (2) allow you to use the correct answers to make better decisions.

So, what type of things might you ask in your own Factfulness Test?

Who buys your brand?  Are they younger than average, older than average, about average age?  Are they higher affluence, lower affluence, about average?  Do they have kids in the household or not?  The answers might throw up some interesting things.  For instance, all your communication may be aimed at a younger shopper when the people who actually buy you, are older.  You might be targeting families when more of your buyers are non families.

When is your product used?  Is your product more likely to be used at breakfast, lunch or dinner?  If it is used for snacking, is it more likely to be used in the morning, afternoon or evening?  Again, the answers may throw up some interesting things.  You might have a product that you think is a snack that is actually eaten at meals.  Or one that you think is used with product A, but is actually used with product B.

Where do you over & under trade?  Let’s take eCommerce as an example.  Does your category over or undertrade online?  Which parts of the category over or under trade?  Does your brand over or under trade?  You might be operating in a category that overtrades online, in a segment (e.g. premium) that overtrades online, but have a brand that undertrades.  Something that you need to fix, that you might not have properly known about.

How much volume do you sell on deal?  Do you sell more volume on deal than the category average?  Or less? Or about the same?  Is your volume on deal increasing, decreasing or staying the same?  You might be selling 80%+ of your volume on deal.  If that’s your strategy – fair enough.  But, if you’ve got a brand team developing a big new equity campaign at the same time as your volume on deal is high and increasing, it may not work too well.

What are your levels of Trial & Repeat?  Companies have been told success is all about penetration.  So, they focus on increasing penetration.  They know what their brand penetration is.  But, it is easy for a shopper to appear in your 52 week penetration figure.  They only need to buy you once.  What about repeat?  How many shoppers buy your brand more than once?  You might find you are very good at getting people to buy you once.  Not so good at getting people to buy you again – which could be a big problem.

All this is partly about the questions that you ask.  It is also about the mindset you are trying to create.  A mindset that is about less information and more knowledge.  Making sure that people know what they need to know.  Then make decisions based on what they know.

Read the book “Factfulness”.  It is eye opening.  Do your own Factfulness test in your company.  It might be even more eye opening.

Feel free to forward.  Have a great weekend.  Speak to you in a fortnight.