Consensus Learning Model

My question about whether you learned anything at SES or not didn’t get much reaction.  I suspect the answers were polarized, with half the people thinking “not really, I go there for other reasons” and the other half thinking “of course I did”.

Answers to that question might have been helpful, but…

What I’m really questioning is this: How do people in the web space learn what they learn?  Associated questions are:

1.  Has quantity eclipsed quality as a yardstick for the success?

2.  Implications for Teachers / Course Developers of the answer to #1

There are also some serious implications for “Web Marketing” adoption (in all forms) by the broader Marketing community buried in the above.  To me, this is not unlike the “CRM Problem”, where for years (and still) people confused the Technology solution with the Marketing potential, which set CRM back a decade.

In particular, what interests me the most is what seems like a glacially slow learning curve among practitioners of Online Marketing.

Example: Given all the technology we have, given the immediacy of knowledge distribution and the number of voices, and given the absolute boatload of mistakes and learning that have taken place since the early 90’s, why are we (in the case of SES) still talking about landing pages and title tags like they are some kind of secret sauce? 

These two topics have to be the most covered topics on the web, info on them is everywhere.  So why would senior people talk about them at the leading conference on Search Marketing?  Why wouldn’t these topics be confined to sessions for newbies?

I can only think of two macro reasons:

1.  Something must be broken about the Learning approach we’re using.  Perhaps involving Trust of the content or Authority of the Teachers, which causes people to simply not embrace the material.

2.  Something must be unique about the Learners themselves.  Perhaps they don’t accept any Learning as “solidified” or have a constant need for confirmation that what they know is “correct”.

Perhaps the “Wisdom of Crowds” has a natural downside.  The Consensus has to constantly be questioned and evaluated, over and over, because the Consensus lacks Trust and Authority. 

Or, perhaps the Consensus Crowd can be fickle, and like a school of fish, suddenly turn and veer off in another direction.  So there’s a fear of missing these turns, creating a need for constant confirmation.

The above analysis is from an Education perspective, but I’m not sure it addresses Root Cause; these could be the symptoms of a larger problem, which is a confusion of Tactics and Strategy.  In other words, the Tactical tail wagging the Strategic dog.

Instead of the other way ’round.

Perhaps slow learning is just a symptom of what is portrayed as (but is not really, from a Marketing perspective) an endless learning curve for various reasons that probably have to do with the technology heritage of the space.  In particular, the use of a FUD approach when pushing new technology ideas which is wholly inappropriate when pushing new Marketing ideas.

Technology is Tactical, Marketing is Strategic.  You can use FUD to sell new Tactical approaches based on new technology, but when you use FUD to push Strategic ideas like Marketing, what you’re doing is proving your idea is not worth spending any time on.

Example: the concept of “Message Continuity” or “Scent” can be embraced as a core philosopy of Marketing Communications, regardless of how it is expressed – Landing Page, Title Tag, Subject Line, whatever.  Just because the technology changes doesn’t mean the core idea of “Scent” changes – unless it is faulty to being with.  To say a new techology “changes everything” and requires new Learning only feeds the fire of doubt and provides reasons for “mainstream” Marketing people to doubt an idea is even worth considering.

FUD works against you, not for you, in the the world of Marketing Strategy, which is where the big dollars are locked up.

Am I wrong, am I misdirected, is there something I don’t understand? 

Questions like these are very important to get a grip on for those of us in the “Education Space”, so comments are most welcome.  And (I think) there are broader implications buried in here for the  “speed of adoption” issue many online marketing spaces are facing.

Thoughts on any of the above?


6 thoughts on “Consensus Learning Model

  1. Hi Jim,
    that’s an interesting subject, and since I’m also getting more involved into the “education space”, it also concerns me. I wasn’t at SES, but I can relate to other events I attended (like emetrics): the ratio of learn/implement, or wow!/apply is getting lower as you advance in experience. I mean, after a certain point, we’re not learning “that much”, but we still go to conferences in case we miss something (I should have come to XChange!), because we want to be part of the Crowd (and I’m sure also, in part because we like good food, good show, good company… and to get away from our routine).

    But as you say, the “knowledge” is out there. In books, in courses, in blogs, in consultants. Yet, people usually listen, get “wowed” at the latest industry trend (last year was mobile, this year was voice of customer, next year?) or technology, or nice charts, and go back to their desk and continue the “fight” to get things done differently. Or they simply loose hope and start hunting for a greener pasture.

    The same apply for tools. It amazes me how many people think switching tool will solve their problem. The problem is often not the tool, but the person (ha! if we could get rid of people! tools would be so simple to use!) The problem is the culture and getting one (simple) thing done after the other… I heard it’s called “a process”!

    You lived through the CRM era… we know history repeats itself: the holly grail will turn out to be a nightmare, lots will try, few will survive. But those who do will be empowered like never before.

    Does it mean “education” is a waste of time? I don’t think so, on one hand it’s important to focus on the concepts and the strategy, on the other there are lots of people who are seeking more tactical and hands on learning opportunities.

    “Making web analytics easier” obviously must address both through different types of learning opportunities.


  2. One of the things I am questioning is whether “the Crowd” is exerting undue influence on the Content. In other words, the Crowd has often been quite wrong during the history of the web. Yet now, more than ever with Blogging and so forth, the Crowd is determining the Content. For example, the countless “studies” released that are faulty and meaningless yet repeated as if they were “truth” throughout the Blogosphere.

    The “Tool Learning” versus “Marketing Learning” issue overlaps with this “Consensus of the Crowd” issue. The amount of Marketing Swill dumped down the drain into the Blogosphere just to sell tools and services is incredible. The tech audience loves this because it’s “new tool time” but the messages the tech audience is getting about Marketing are corrupt and misleading.

    It’s a lofty discussion, but one that I increasingly think needs to happen – unless we want to just keep repeating the Marketing failures of the past every time a new tool comes out…

    But perhaps that’s what people do want, at least on the Tech side, because it creates the need for “experts” to spread yet more Swill while ignoring these failures of the past.

    If so, I never want to hear whining about the % of Marketing budget spent online or slow adoption or anything like that again from the tech side, because they are simply driving Marketers away by not speaking the right language / creating useless FUD / turning simple ideas into complex “problems” that need “solutions”.

    Web analytics as a discipline has done a very credible job (at least I think) with keeping a balance between the tech toys and business focus. But now we have a huge legion of the (blogging) Crowd who seems to want to go back to “you just gotta believe”.

    Again, did we not learn anything in the past 10 years?

  3. Hi Jim,

    Quite fascinating questions you’re bringing up. Yes, we seem to believe these days that the proclaimed Genius (!) of the Connected Crowd should bring us to a better level of knowledge. Heck! Wikipedia was right more times than Britannica in some research !

    But have we forgot that the Crowd can be very wrong? At some point of time on this planet, EVERYBODY (laymen, pundits) thought the Earth was flat and that the Sun revolved around it.

    Is online Marketing condemned to the Eternal Return of the Same? Is it because the object of knowledge, “human beings buying stuff”, is so fuzzy that true knowledge (in the scientific sense) is hard and long to come by?

    Or, is it because, after all, the blogosphere spreads more urban legends that truths? That economic interests trump the truth?

    (See, Epistemic Cultures, by Karin Knorr Cetina)

  4. Well Jacques, I’m having trouble figuring out if you are being sarcastic, giving up and letting the world just be stupid, or just don’t care either way!

    So let me ask you and Stéphane if he’s still “Engaged”…


    The Online Marketing world seems to repeat the same mistakes over and over; it’s almost like every new generation of technology is a clean slate and somehow people expect doing something that was stupid in a previous generation won’t be stupid this time.

    For example, putting a high value on “quantity” of activity when every past generation has found that “quality” ends up as a more important metric. In other words, despite the “testing” mentality online, people seem to ignore the results of the past.

    Question: Why does this happen? Is it because:

    1. The Teaching is failing – books, conferences, courses, blogs, newsletters, etc. just are not conveying the correct principles

    2. The Learning is failing – people simply don’t want to rely on the lessons of the past and want to experience every new platform as a blank space.

    3. Other – Your reasons? Or problems with the Premise?

  5. I’m still engaged :)

    To your question “Why does quantity ends up as being more important than quality?”

    Could it simply be part of the learning process? I don’t think teaching is failing, it is out there (for the most part – although there are many really good books, good blogs and sometimes pretty good training material, notice how there has been no attempt to create a “classic” text book – with the formal approach and thorough research & references – something I’m working on right now!). The learning might be failing, but one learns to walk, and fall, before running marathons… Even if someone tells you there’s a better way, there’s a basic element of walking you must learn by yourself through trials and errors.

    You are at the top of the ladder, viewing “newbies” mistakes you’ve seen so often before as a waste of time. What seems to be “the same mistakes over and over” to you is totally new to those who live them! And it’s part of their learning experience, not yours. Maybe some of them will find even better ways to accomplish their tasks and achieve their goals. To some extent, we might be victims of the Curse of Knowledge.

    “Again, did we not learn anything in the past 10 years?”: Yes, you, Jacques, I and several others learned a lot over the past 10, 15, 20 years. But 10 yeas ago there’s a huge Crowd that wasn’t there, and in some cases, we shouldn’t aim for the Stupidity of the Crowd, but the Wisdom of the Few… It depends if you aim to educate the “mass” (raise the lower control limit?!) or elevate Knowledge of the elite (push the upper limit). In either case, the “average” would appear to be higher…

  6. Stéphane – I recognize both the trial and error method and the “experience stack” as components but I wonder if they are more like symptoms than cause – I’m looking for the drivers.

    I don’t expect someone with 2 years experience to be as “smart” as someone with 10 years experience. What I might expect is a person with 2 years experience would have the fundamentals right e.g. visits are preferred to hits as a base measurement.

    So, while I think most people understand this particular idea now, what I’m really asking is how did that happen? And why has it not happened with other fundamental ideas, like quality versus quantity?

    I also realize I’m probably not doing a great job of explaining this, so I’m going to keep trying and continue this thread here.

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