Skip to main content

Elementary, My Dear Watson: Finding Evidence

Man holding magnifying glass

Mystery novels are one of my favourite genres.

Low-brow you might say, but the great detective novelist knows more about human nature and behavioural economics than any academic does.

In a nutshell

  1. In detective novels, the most obvious, fundamental piece of evidence - is often overlooked by the reader.
  2. A great marketer is like a great detective: looking for evidence in the most fundamental way possible.
  3. Rather than compiling mountains of evidence, look at your category, its business dynamics, and ultimately, your marketing model.

The great detective novelist systematically reveals the evidence, point by point – as long as you’re looking out for it. It’s often the most fundamental, or obvious evidence that is overlooked by the reader (or the police, who are often cast as the bumbling foil to the novelist’s genius detective). 

In Silver Blaze, the mystery of a stolen racehorse, Sherlock Holmes reveals a fundamental piece of evidence that solves the crime. The evidence: a dog that did not bark. 

Gregory (Scotland Yard detective): "Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"

Holmes: "To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."

Gregory: "The dog did nothing in the night-time."

Holmes: "That was the curious incident."

(Clue: Since the dog did not bark, the person who stole the racehorse must have been known to the dog …)

The parallel in marketing is ensuring we look for evidence in the most fundamental way possible. 

The evidence of your category

One of the most fundamental evidence points of marketing is the evidence of what category you are in. Is it high involvement or low involvement? Is the decision-making high risk or low risk? Are we asking people to make familiar decisions or new decisions?     

And what about the business dynamics of the category? Is it a category where a market leader will reap excess profits? Are the overheads minimal if the business grows such as Saas products? Or are there high fixed cost steps which are difficult to straddle when the business grows?

Category dynamics can help you choose which marketing model you want to follow. Most people have heard of the competing marketing models outlined by Byron Sharp and Mark Ritson. In reality, the two models are not that different. One is based on mass targeting, the other is segment, target, positioning. Both espouse salience, distinctiveness, codes.  

The evidence of your marketing model

But one of the fundamental evidence points of marketing is deciding on which model you want to follow. Based on the evidence of your category, the business dynamics, your position in the category, and your available resources.  

For example, a bank with a high share in the market would follow a Sharp style model.  Salience above all else. Target everyone, outspend everyone. Winner takes most. But a small, local bank would be better placed to follow a Ritson style model – segment, target and position to make the most of limited resources. As would a beer company. If your drinkers use the bottle in the hand to proclaim what type of person they are, you need to segment, target and position, rather than have one brand that works for everyone. 

The same thinking can apply in public sector marketing. A salience-based model was critical for the recent COVID campaign - getting a clear, cohesive message out to as many people at the same time.  But if you are after behaviour change in a category where the big gains have already been made (stopping smoking for example), then you need to specifically target hold-out groups.

The second fundamental point is making sure your measurement strategy reflects the marketing model you are adhering to. If you’re following a pure salience-based model, you don’t need to measure differentiation. But you do need to measure salience, and mental availability. In the public sector, if the problem is specific targeting, you can direct all your measurement efforts against specific groups.

The temptation (which Sherlock Holmes never falls for) is to collect mountains of evidence, creating noise. Instead, Sherlock Holmes looks at the fundamentals. The signals, not the noise. The dog that didn’t bark.  

Learn more about evidence-based marketing in our webinar.

Watch our webinar, Finding Your Edge: Evidence, Strategy and Marketing that Makes a Difference.



Headshot of Karin Glucina, Partner at TRA in black and white
Karin Glucina

New problems need new solutions.

back to top

Discover more content

Stay in touch!

Sign up to receive our latest thinking straight to your inbox each month.