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 Care and Feeding of your Creative

Graphic by KROMKRATHOG at
Graphic by KROMKRATHOG at

Creatives don’t have the best reputation. I know, I am one. Fortunately, I was blessed with a logical brain that keeps me pretty grounded. I can’t always say the same for my emotionally driven, creative, kindred spirits though. Some can be real characters and make working with them quite interesting to say the least.

Regardless of the flavor of your creative, there are some fairly universal truths regarding their care and feeding. Whether you are managing just one creative or a whole team of them, these tips will help you keep them on track, productive, and fully utilizing that creative bone.

Tell them what you want then back away.

Micromanagement is not effective when working with creatives, they just don’t respond well to it at all. Your creative will respond best when you hand them a project, provide a creative brief, and turn them loose on it. If they have questions they will ask but as long as you have given them some idea of what you want the finished product to look like they will usually run with it.

Channel the Passion

Creatives tend to have a heavy emotional investment in their work. This is great because they are taking ownership and you can rest assured that because they care so deeply about the project they will give it their all. On the other hand, it is very easy for them to take off in a completely different direction that may not be exactly appropriate for your business. A heavy hand won’t work here so don’t stifle the passion or try to control the creativity. Instead, gently channel it, guide it, direct it back onto the path that will get you the results you need.

Leave the Door Open for Collaboration – and Trust your Creative

A creative’s job is to be, well, creative. Loosen the reins a little, give them their head so they can run. Yeah, the bit is still in their mouth, but go along for the ride and see what wondrous paths they take you down. You may know what you want, but the creative knows how to get there. It is a perfect mix. You give them your vision and let them run. Leave the door open for collaboration so you can work together. Make them feel comfortable offering suggestions for changes or additions. Most of all, trust your creative.

Put them on diverse teams.

Diverse teams are great for boosting creativity but it seems that perspective taking actually kicks it up a notch. While diversity brings a variety of perspectives to the table, perspective taking allows for the proper integration of those perspectives, leading to creative synergy. When they are pulling from various backgrounds, experiences, and viewpoints, the environment is far more conducive to creativity than pursuing a single thought or idea in a group that lacks diversity.

But give them room to work alone too.

There are times when a creative personality just needs to be alone. If they are working in a shared workspace or a benching layout make sure that you provide them with a place to retreat and work alone. If they are working in a virtual workspace, give them their space if they need it. Some creatives like to hole up and hammer out a project in solitude while others thrive on collaboration. Know your creative! Don’t forego your own needs, but try to maintain some flexibility in the process.

Leave room for flexible deadlines.

Some deadlines are non-negotiable and we creatives recognize and respect that. However, some deadlines do have some room for play. There will be times when your creative gets “in the zone” and may require more time. It may be an idea for a new direction or a better way of completing the project. Whatever the case, give them a little room to run and be willing to extend some deadlines just a bit.

Present challenges and maybe even a little healthy competition.

A creative’s mind is always working. They tend to get bored easily if they don’t have enough challenging projects. I know that if I don’t have a good mix that includes intellectually challenging projects I struggle with the more hum drum work that is my bread and butter. Ask for their opinion on various aspects of the project. Even if you don’t use their suggestions you are still keeping them stimulated – but who knows, they may present something to you that blows the roof off of your project. Introducing some healthy competition helps feed that fire as well and it keeps them interested.

As long as businesses are trying to entice customers and make sales, there will be creatives involved in the process. As long as people are reading books, viewing art, and listening to music creatives will have something to do. Working with a creative does not have to be a feared or dreaded event. We’re just like everyone else – except we dream in color.