Deming Plan Do Check Act

Deming for Marketing Managers

Almost 30 years ago, I was fortunate to have a mentor who was a devotee of W. Edwards Deming. No less than once a week (for four years) I would hear Charlie say, “If you’re not measuring it, you’re not managing it.” I never found the actual Deming quote, but the concept is certainly consistent with his philosophy. Charlie’s paraphrase of Deming changed the way I looked at marketing and advertising. Before Charlie (BC), I was satisfied measuring things like “reach and frequency,” confident that exposure drove awareness, built brand, and generated revenue – but Charlie (and Deming) proved me wrong.

Many things have changed in the past 30 years – not the least of which is our ability to measure marketing investments. Electronic media, from email to microsites, fit the metrics mandate even better than their predecessors. Today, we can leverage personal data to segment markets by behavior (far more advanced than traditional demographics). We can welcome visitors to our businesses by name, armed with an ever-expanding understanding of their needs and wants and values. We can track and evaluate their individual customer experiences, and influence their decisions by managing information that flows through their social networks.

And, in the process, senior marketing managers can lose sight of the reason we’re here in the first place – to patiently develop tomorrow’s marketing leaders.

Don’t get me wrong. Analytics are critical to continual improvement of the customer experience and to the evolution of our brands. Deming would probably agree; he’d probably even applaud the new tools at our disposal. At least, at first.

But in addition to being a staunch proponent of statistical process control, Deming was also a highly enlightened individual, who valued and respected his fellow man. Deeply rooted in his spiritual heritage, Deming maintained the importance of respect for the individual. He asserted that his “system of profound knowledge” had transformative powers. And that a transformed individual would lead by example, listen but not compromise, continually teach, and never evoke guilt through judgment.

His standards for the “transformed individual” are as relevant today as they were decades ago. Yet, in the flurry of data and analysis, it’s easy to forget our greater responsibilities to lead with compassion.

It’s a profound concept, coming from a statistician. And great advice for today’s high-tech marketing managers.