In her book, “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,” Stanford University Professor Carol Dweck purports that people possess one of two mindsets: the fixed mindset or the growth mindset.
Fixed mindset people are “always trying to prove themselves and they’re supersensitive about being wrong or making mistakes.” They fear failure. They feel that they are always being judged. Fixed mindset people feel that they have fixed traits and talents, and that they’re never going to get any better. For them, success is about proving they’re smart or talented. Validating themselves.
Growth mindset people believe that “your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts.” They welcome failure as a learning experience, an opportunity to grow. For them, success is about stretching themselves to learn something new. Developing themselves.
Which mindset a marketer possesses affects the way they approach testing and results measurement. Beginning my career in a traditional direct marketing environment, I learned early on that failure is a good thing. It tells you what doesn’t work. I thought everyone developed tests that had limited downside risk to determine the best media, creative and offers. We roll out the winning campaign and test against it time and again. Success is always evolving.
It wasn’t until I started in the agency business that I learned there was another mindset—one where in-market testing might uncover flaws in a campaign that could open it up for judgment. In the fixed marketing mindset, the agency team and the client select what they believe is the best approach. If time and money permit, then perhaps they do some research to validate their choice. But as David Ogilvy pointed out so many years ago, “Research is often misused by agencies and their clients. They have a way of using it to prove they are right. They use research as a drunkard uses a lamppost—not for illumination but for support.”
The fixed mindset marketers measure to validate their campaigns. The growth mindset marketers measure to challenge their campaigns.
Agency people can be especially prone to the fixed mindset, particularly when it involves admitting that the agency’s initial work or recommendation was not perfect. Once, I was analyzing conversion from visit to lead at a website. I found a problem with the way leads were being directed to the landing page; it wasn’t an intuitive interface for the visitor and it was a spot where visitors were abandoning the site. When I informed the account person about the issue she said, “We can’t change it now. The client already approved it.” Classic fixed mindset. Being wrong equals failure, even if admitting it means better results, learning and growth.
Clients who have lengthy, multi-layered approval processes are also prone to the fixed mindset. They resist testing because it’s too difficult to get multiple creative/offer variations approved. But perhaps they’re reluctant to admit to people across several departments and levels of the organization that they don’t know prospectively what’s going to work best.
The good news is people can change their mindsets if they change their perceptions of what it means to succeed and what it means to fail. Dr. Dweck relates that “John Wooden, the legendary basketball coach, says you aren’t a failure until you start to blame. What he means is that you can still be in the process of learning from your mistakes until you deny them.”
Testing new approaches and learning what doesn’t work is a step along the path of continuous improvement. If we’re going to take our marketing results to the next level, we need to challenge the status quo, not preserve it.