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The Importance of Testing: You Think You Know…But You Really Don’t Know

With the football season concluding this past weekend, I was reminded again of a great quote from a long-time NFL head coach.

No…I’m not thinking of a motivational quote from the great Vince Lombardi or a message about leadership from the great Tom Landry.

Instead, I’m thinking of a quote that has proved to be a very valuable reminder to me as a direct marketer.

Jim Mora is perhaps best known as the former Indianapolis Colts head coach — Peyton Manning’s first NFL head coach, in fact — who provided the memorable tirade about his team going to the “Playoffs!?!?” 

But it was during his time as head coach of the New Orleans Saints that Mora provided the media with another great quote that still lives on as a great lesson. 

Mora was being questioned by reporters during the 1989 season about his team’s success, and he’d had enough of the second-guessing.  Insisting that the reporters had no idea what was really happening with the team, Mora said:

“You guys really don’t know when it’s good or bad, when it comes right down to it. You really don’t know, because you don’t know what we’re trying to do, you guys don’t look at the films, you don’t know what happened, you really don’t know. You think you know, but you DON’T KNOW.”

Aside from being hilarious (you can watch the video here), Mora’s message is also instructive:

It’s easy to be an “armchair quarterback” and second-guess things that happen outside of your control.  By the same token, it’s also easy to call yourself an expert…even when you might not know everything that went into a particular decision.

So how does this apply to direct marketing?

If you work in the industry — as a marketer, publisher, copywriter or business-builder — it’s easy to talk yourself into the idea that you know best what the market wants.

But is that really true?  Do you know better than the marketplace?

Have you ever heard yourself — or someone you work with — utter the phrase, “That will never work”?  Or maybe, “Our customers would never go for that”?

How do you know that to be the case?

Or have you ever stopped a campaign that was still delivering results because you thought the message was getting tired?

It’s easy to let our experience fool us into thinking we know what will happen.  But the truth is, our campaign results can often be surprising.

That’s where Jim Mora’s point comes in:

You think you know…but you really don’t know.

The only “person” who matters is the marketplace.  It’s critical that you let the market tell you whether an idea is a good one or a bad one…or if a campaign is really “tired” enough to be pushed aside.

Great marketers know the importance of testing.  You can learn something in any campaign by testing headlines, subject lines, price points, offers, colors, lists, messages, timing…I could go on and on.

And while it’s not possible to test every aspect of a campaign…it is important to remember when making decisions that the only vote that really counts is the vote of the marketplace.

If your marketplace is sick of your campaign — because you’ve saturated them with the message — they’ll let you know in a clear way.  Don’t assume that you’ve “worn out” your message before you see a clear, measurable design in the response rates for your control.

Along those same lines, don’t automatically reject a new idea just because you “don’t think it will work.” 

I can think of dozens of great campaigns that were initially scoffed at…all because someone was skeptical. 

It’s only through testing new ideas — even a few that you might not think are “slam-dunks” — that you find marketing breakthroughs. 

So while it’s important to apply your experience where possible…it’s also important to remember Jim Mora’s lesson: You think you know…but you really don’t know.

Jody Madron is a results-oriented copywriter with more than 20 years of breakthrough marketing experience.  To learn how Jody can deliver results-boosting copy — ahead of your deadline — visit

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