In reading The Age of the Unthinkable by Joshua Cooper Ramo, one of the central themes of this book is Per Bak’s Sandpile effect. In an overly simplified explanation, the sandpile effect draws an analogy between the unmappable and invisible interconnections between global events and the complex relationship between individual grains of sand as they are piled on top of each other. Each time a grain is added to the pile, the relationship between each grain is altered. The experiment tries to determine how many grains will it take before the sandpile collapses. Ultimately, each time the experiment is repeated, resulted in a different outcome. Each pile had millions of combinations that impact the strength of the pile, and as a result, cannot predict exactly how many grains it will take to collapse.
As I read through this book, I couldn’t help but create my own analogy to marketing, social media, and every other aspect of our brand that impacts our customers’ decision to buy something from us. We strive to measure the impact and ROI of social media, but are we measuring the right thing? Do the number of followers really matter? Maybe we should ask ourselves, “How does our social media impact our click thru rates?” Looking at it from this perspective allows us to take a step back and look at our marketing campaigns more holistically. It forces us to reevaluate how we measure success.
For example, let’s take the idea of looking at social media as a tool to increase click thru rates. How would that change how you post, when you post, or what you post. How would that impact your measure of success? How would this improve the ROI of your direct mail campaign or more so, how would it change how you execute your direct mail campaign?
Ultimately, the point of the book is not to plan out or create a strategy for each connection. Quite frankly, the point is that you can’t because the connections are so complex (particularly on a global scale), but to create a framework and an environment to facilitate the customer acquisition process. Marketers seek to find the connection and ROI impact of various initiatives, and with the internet, measuring the ROI of specific initiatives is super easy. What we have lost though is the interconnection of all of our other marketing efforts. We now tend to look at marketing in pieces. Which one email performed the best? Which one email drove the most registrations? Our direct mail didn’t drive any registrations so let’s stop sending out direct mail. Looking at it like that, is basically asking which grain of sand caused the sandpile to collapse. We need to look at the entire sandpile and create an unmapped and interconnected marketing experience for our customers.