How the Dunning-Kruger Effect is destroying your marketing strategy

Trophy - pixtawan
Photo Credit: pixtawan

Part of being a full time freelance writer is looking for new clients. I have some room in my “garage” right now and I was checking out some job postings for companies that are looking for part time writers. They all basically looked alike – as writing job posts are wont to do – but then one jumped out at me. I have been at this for a while, but I admit I have never seen this in a job post.

After their lengthy description of the position, writer requirements, and other specifics of the job, there was a three sentence paragraph that gave me a good chuckle. It started with the typical “send your resume and cover letter to blah, blah, blah,” but it was the last sentence that was classic. It read, “Because of the Dunning-Kruger Effect, it is important to provide concrete examples illustrating why you are the ideal candidate.”

Now, you may not be familiar with the Dunning-Kruger Effect by name, but if you have spent any time around humans you have very likely seen it in action. The short definition is the malady of the inflated ego, but I like a little more detail.

Basically, it is a term used to describe the phenomenon of how ignorance or incompetence evokes more confidence than knowledge or competence. There are actual studies that have been done on this showing that the people who are the most incompetent are the very ones who are the most convinced of their competence.

It is the epitome of ignorance is bliss.

To illustrate the Dunning-Kruger Effect let’s look at this scenario. You ask two people to answer a series of 10 math problems and one person gets 3 correct while the other gets 9 correct, the person who got 3 right will tend to think of terms of “I got 3 right.” The person who got 9 correct, though, will typically think in terms of “I missed one.” The psychology behind this is that the most competent people are usually the ones to underestimate or downplay their competence the most while the incompetent folks are convinced that they are the most competent people in the room. They are essentially incapable of recognizing their own incompetence.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect in action:

  • Incompetent people do not recognize that they lack skills
  • Incompetent people do not recognize that someone else possesses genuine skill
  • Incompetent people do not recognize how far their inadequacy extends
  • Incompetent people do not recognize and acknowledge that they lack skill, after they experience training for that specific skill

You’ve had the boss who thought he or she could do it all? Often that compulsion stems from this.

You can’t do it all; no one can.

A Pacific News article, We are all Confident Idiots, explains the Dunning-Kruger Effect quite well. Plus it’s an enjoyable read. I highly suggest it if you want to know more. Another excellent piece is Unskilled and Unaware. It is the original paper written by Dunning and Kruger.

My focus here is not to provide information on this condition, or whatever it is; my focus here is to tell you how it is wrecking your marketing strategy.

All too often business owners will decide to forego hiring an expert, believing that they can do the marketing themselves. They google a few websites and think, “How hard can it be?”

Well, if you don’t know what you are doing it can be hard, very hard – and very bad. This is especially true if you are pouring money into advertising, yet you have minimal or no experience in advertising. Sure, some people are naturals, but those guys are few and far between. The rest of us have to study and work hard to get the knowledge, experience and skills that make us good marketers.

Marketing is a science and an art. There are intricacies that only experience can teach you. It seems like every day there is yet another new Google algorithm or social media platform, or SEO technique. You have to stay on top of it all in order to effectively compete. And if you are busy handling all of your business affairs, how can you devote the time and energy to your company’s marketing strategy as well? When do you sleep?

Marketing is not simple and it certainly isn’t easy. It takes time to learn, to get a feel for it. Call it intuition if you want, but it is learned through working in the industry and working for multiple clients across multiple industries. It is not an easy job and 9 out of 10 small businesses are cheating themselves out of higher conversions, increased traffic, and improved customer loyalty because they overestimate their own ability to market their company instead of delegating the task to a professional.

However, if you still aren’t convinced, let’s look at why you would do better to hire someone to do your marketing.

It will free up more of your time so you can do what you do best – grow your business. Marketing any company takes time and focus. If you are trying to do it all yourself, it is a much more cost effective and efficient move to hire someone to do your marketing.

You don’t want to get wrapped up in the details – but you still need the details. Even most marketing companies don’t do their own promotional writing, they hire writers to do it. Even they, the marketing experts, recognize where their strengths, and weaknesses, lie and they know that it will be done faster and better when the right person is doing the right job. Everyone is in his or her own lane, attending to the relevant details in that lane – and everything gets done.

Your marketing schedule will not be interrupted. If you have absolutely nothing else to do it is probably pretty easy to keep your marketing on schedule, but you are running a business. If you are trying to do it all, something is going to suffer and it will probably be your marketing.

Someone on the outside can give you a perspective that is fresh and objective. When you are writing your own stuff and marketing your own company it is easy to get wrapped up in the emotional attachments, If your own needs, agendas, motivations. An outsider is more apt to think like your customer, your target and create material that speaks to them.

If you are a marketing pro and you think I am out of my mind crazy (and maybe dealing with a little Dunning-Kruger Effect myself) well, go ahead and do your own marketing. Who knows, you might be an absolute genius at it. More power to you!

But if you are sitting there, staring at your screen, mouth agape, thinking “Wow. She’s talking about ME!” Well, acknowledging the problem is the first step in solving it.

The bottom line here is, the Dunning-Kruger Effect could very well be wrecking your marketing strategy – and your business. Take a long, hard look at your business, your marketing, and ask yourself this one, simple question: “Is this working?”

The Squirrel, the Cat, and the Large White Man (The Dangers of Distracted Marketing)


The other day my husband walked into the house with a look on his face that I can only describe as stricken.

I sat up straight, suddenly on alert. My husband isn’t one to be visibly upset very often – not unless it is really bad.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, mentally going through the things that could be going wrong: elderly parents, kids, our business, our home.

“I got a squirrel killed.” He replied, clearly upset over this, um, tragedy.

I was completely thrown off by his answer. “You what?”

“I got a squirrel killed.” He watched me, watching him as I waited for further explanation – and understanding of how this was such a traumatic event. Even he, as a pest control professional and business owner, had referred to them on more than one occasion as tree rats.

He continued. “I distracted it and a cat came out of nowhere, pounced on it, and dragged it off into the bushes.” Ah.

He didn’t appreciate my (admittedly) flippant remark that went something like, “That’s just how the food chain works. Life is a part of death.” He was still upset. So I asked him how in the world he thought he distracted a squirrel so thoroughly that it would let down its guard long enough for a predator to pounce. I’ll spare you the mental picture, but it involved a large, white man throwing his hands up in the air, waving them, and yelling, “Hey squirrel!”

Yeah, I don’t ask anymore. My husband is a wonderful, brilliant, compassionate man with the most amazing sense of humor I have even encountered. His quirkiness matches my quirkiness and it is one of the main things that made me fall in love with him in the first place.

He had been outside cleaning the grill; I’m not sure how he went from that to squirrel killer – or accomplice.

And that is how we wound up on the squirrel mafia’s hit list.

It did get me thinking though. How many times have we started a marketing strategy or embarked on a business building project only to get distracted by things? Distracted marketing can be death to a business.

Sure, there is no large, white man standing in your front yard, waving his arms shouting “Hey squirrel,” but there are other things that can draw our focus. Business issues as well as personal issues can cause us to take our eyes off the goal – and off of the predators (also known as competitors) that are lurking, lying in wait, ready to pounce when you get distracted.

We tell our kids to keep their mind on their studies. The media is always warning us of the dangers of distracted driving. Experts scare us to death with horror stories about distracted parenting.

What about distracted marketing? You don’t hear so much about keeping your marketing focus sharp. It is important though. Small businesses are particularly vulnerable to competitor attacks. You can’t afford to stop assessing your surroundings in order to give your attention to a large white man waving his arms and calling to you, lest the cat slip from its hiding place and destroy you.

So how can you keep your focus in this increasingly distracting world?

Set Goals

Yeah, everyone says set goals – and it’s really good advice. Set marketing goals, not just for what you will do at each stage of your marketing campaign, but what you expect to accomplish. Sure, this is Marketing 101, but sometimes it is necessary to return to the basics.

Put it in Writing

Put everything in writing, your strategy, your goals, your benchmarks, everything. When you have ideas or make observations, write them down. Keep it all in a file and actually use the information. Find a way to organize your notes so you can access them easily. While some of your observations or comments may not work on this campaign, they may make all the difference for the next one.

Create a Schedule

Create alerts on your phone, Google calendar, all of your time management tools. Small business owners tend to wear a lot of hats and when they get caught up with wearing one attention demanding hat the others can suffer. Marketing is often relegated to the end of the line, an afterthought, but it should be a priority. If you don’t market you won’t have any customers to serve so carve out some time each day to work on it whether it’s your content management, social media scheduling, or updating your website. Set an alarm and just do it.

Put on Blinders

There is a difference between being vigilant and being distractible – and you need to find it. This is the beauty of carving out specific time to devote to marketing your company. For that time, those two or three hours – or whatever – you don’t have to pay attention to anything else. Unless there is a true emergency, anything can wait for a couple of hours. Put on those blinders and keep your focus on your marketing.

Do it Every Day

Back to Marketing 101, but you need to hear this. Too many small business owners painstakingly create their marketing strategies and set them in motion only to pull an ostrich mama move and abandon them. Your marketing campaign needs your hands on it every single day. Yes, every day you need to do something related to marketing your business. Work on your blog, update your website (the majority of business owners do not update their websites nearly as often as they should), or engage your customers on your social media channels, but always, always monitor and measure to see how your efforts are working.

Don’t fall victim to distracted marketing; it is something that is completely avoidable. You took the time to plan your business, put that plan into action, and make it work, do the same with your marketing. And keep your focus.

Have you ever fallen victim to distracted marketing? What strategies do you have in place to prevent it from happening?

Quick Tip Thursday: Finding FREE Photos for your Blog


There is no denying that a blog with photos gets more views, but finding good, free blog photos (unless you are a pro photographer) can be difficult to come by. These five sites have free photos for blogs and personal web sites.


This used to be Stock Xchng but it looks like when they changed to Free Images it got even better. This is a personal favorite for free photos. They are royalty free and there is no fee for using them. However, check the licensing info to see if you have to ask permission from the photographer or if you have to notify him or her.

There is a simple search engine that is fairly good, but try lots of different search terms since photographers who contribute to the site are able to use their own tags meaning there isn’t any real consistency to make searching very easy. The site is great though and there’s some very impressive talent contributing to it.

Last word, pay careful attention to the returns from your search. They have “premium results” and those that cost money to use. When you hover over the search window there will be several tabs that appear below it. The first one is for searching the free photos. When you view the returns of your search, you will see several tabs across the search results. Make sure you click on the Free tab to view only the free photos. The premium results are typically located on the right hand side of the results page with the free stuff in the middle. Also, if you open a premium result photo you will clearly be able to see the watermark. Free photos do not have a watermark.

Google Images

Honestly, this is pretty much a hit or miss site, but when you hit you can find some pretty good photos for your blog. You’ll want to use several terms to find what you need since quite often the photographers do their own tagging.

The way to find free photos for commercial use on this site is to use the search tools located under the search window. If you go directly to you won’t see them, but once you plug in a keyword and view the results, Search Tools will be there.

When you click on Search Tools, you will see several options for customizing your search, including size, color, type, and time (when the photo was taken). Usage Rights is another options and when you click on it you will see a drop down menu with several selections. I always choose Labeled for Reuse because it is the broadest license and applies to commercial use without restrictions.

I you can find the photographer’s name you should provide attribution. However, that information is not always readily available. There are better sites out there for finding free blog photos, but Google makes is so easy you almost feel obligated to at least give it a try.

Free Digital Photos

This is another favorite. You can find some very good, professional photos for your blog. There are several download options. The smallest size is free but there are larger sizes you can pay for that are pretty reasonably priced. The smallest sizes are usually great sizes for a blog post though.

The smallest size, around 400 X 400 pixels, give or take, is the free download. It does not have a watermark and is free as long as you credit the photographer. I usually put the attribution under the photo on my blog post or put it at the end along with a link to the site. The Terms of Use for the site require attribution to be placed on the same page or screen as the photo. If you are not certain where to place it, they provide detailed instructions for placing attribution on blogs, social media, and websites.

This is a super easy site to use and all the information you need is right there, easy to see and easy to understand.

Morgue File

This site has grown in popularity in recent years and has some gorgeous photos for your blog. These free downloads allow you to “copy, distribute, transmit the work and adapt the work.” However, you are responsible for model releases and other legal content regarding the photos.

The site FAQs suggest contacting the photographer directly if you want to use their work for your blog as is. The morguefile license is for illustrators and designers who want to “use the images in a creative process creating work of their own.”

Attribution is often not necessary, but it is just simply courtesy and respect to do so. Plus, it’s always a good idea to help out a fellow freelancer and give him or her a shoutout with a link to their work.

There are a lot of high quality, high resolution (print quality) photos that are appropriate for a variety of topics. After you search, position your cursor over a photo to see a larger preview. Click on it and you will get a pop up with a larger view and licensing/download information.

Another cool feature on this site is that it provides access to other paid stock photos sites. There are several tabs across the photo viewing area and you can see photos from iStock, Getty, Dreamstime, Bigstock, DepositPhotos, and Fotolia. So if you decide you would rather purchase a photo those options are there as well. MorgueFile is an awesome one stop shop for blog photos. This is definitely a site to bookmark.

Good Free Photo

This is a fairly recent discovery and I thought I would add it to the list. It has some really nice photos and other types of graphics -all public domain. While I have poked around on this site, I haven’t really used it, but it seems very easy. The website itself is pretty clean, well laid out, and easy to navigate.

Since the photos are all public domain you don’t have to include attribution – you probably couldn’t find the info for attribution anyway. However, if you’re feeling particularly you might want to give the site a shout-out.

Photo Pin

This site has come a long way over the years and has proven to be not only a great place to find free blog photos, but it also has some really good information on usage and copyright. You can get some really good photos for your blog or website here, but note that attribution is required. It has a fairly large selection for many different keywords. They do have “sponsored images” at the top of the returns, but they are pretty easy to identify because they have a blue banner across the upper left corner. The free photos are below.

Plug in your search term at the top, check the license type you need and how you want the results sorted. It will return relevant photos and you just click on the one you like. When you hover your cursor over the thumbnail, you will see an option to look at a preview of the photo or you can go ahead and get the photo.

When you click on “Get Photo” you will get a pop-up with download information. Below the photos is a box with HTML that contains the attribution information that is compliant with the photo and site usage. Just copy the HTML and paste it into your blog post.

Can I use the Photo?

Even free photos can have some licensing and copyright restrictions attached. If you are going to use photos that you don’t have to pay for on your blog or website, you need to have at least some understand so you don’t get yourself into trouble. There are several good places to learn about using free photos for commercial or personal use.

Final Thoughts

When you use these sites, you should always credit the photographer by including their name and a link to their site (if you have it) or at least the site where you found the photo – EVEN IF IT IS NOT REQUIRED!

Think about it, if someone was posting YOUR work you would want to be credited and linked. So be courteous and help your fellow freelancers. Always post your credits for photography, art work, whatever you post but did not create yourself. Give credit where credit is due.