Consilience in Marketing, Online and Offline

Consilience is one of the great useful concepts from the modern approach to science. What it boils down to is: evidence of something from unrelated sources makes something more likely to be true than evidence from related sources.

Let’s take a mundane example: the 13 US colonies fought a war of independence against Great Britain to self-govern. How do we know this happened? Well, using the method of consilience, we can combine evidence from very different sources. We have documents written at the time by the leaders of the American colonies. Across the ocean, we have documents written from the Parliament of the United Kingdom about it. In the US, we have records of soldiers volunteering to fight. In the UK, they have records of ships of soldiers being sent to fight. Taken together, the modern historian will conclude that the War of Independence happened. I’ll leave aside crazier ideas that all those documents and many more could have been faked because of course that would be too complex for mere mortals to organize. So, let’s assume the war did happen, of course!

Keep in mind one core consequence of consilience: the diversity of sources is key. Hearing something again and again from one source is a lot less convincing than hearing it from different sources. The power of that should be self-evident, and keep this in mind as I dive into the analysis.

The thesis of this article is: Consilience, when smartly applied, could put your marketing on crack.

Let’s look at it this way.

Imagine, you’re trying to convince one person to buy a product. He sees your ad on a Google search result. Okay. He searched for something and he saw your ad.

Will he buy it? Maybe, maybe not.

Now imagine the consilient strategy. He sees your ad after doing a Google search. But before that (or perhaps after that; within the same timeframe) he had…

  • Seen Google Display ads with your brand. Perhaps they were smart article headlines?
  • Seen Programmatic ads with clickbait-y headlines that got him to click to your site where he saw your brand name.
  • Seen “organic” posts on LinkedIn talking about an idea, and the articles quote your executive team and brand extensively.
  • Seen paid-to-be-promoted Facebook ads that mention your brand.

After your brand erupted a controversy (What’s a stronger word for “birthed”? Anyone? Anyone?) that targeted this guy’s best friend. His best friend saw this and couldn’t help discussing it with his best friend–that is, your prospect.

Do you think this is more likely to succeed than just seeing it in one source? Of course!

Now, there are a few qualifications.

First, this doesn’t work if you stay focused on one source.

Second, coordinating so many different sources is complex. It’s much easier to run Google Display ads. Is the extra effort worth it? Only you can do that calculation–I don’t know the particulars of your situation.

Third, this makes more sense in bigger and more complex sales. In click-to-buy or very cheap products, it’s probably not worth the effort.

Fourth, note the paragraph after the last bullet point in the samples above: targeting other people gets them talking and that will then circle back to your target. Yup, that’s one of the core tools of political marketers. Why not use it for your non-political ends?

A step-back version is that this consilient strategy is one of the more subtle and clever ways to use display ads. Not just for brand recognition, nor to get direct sales. But to help your target be exposed to your brand’s message (via your brand) enough so that he just can’t resist.

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