Correlation Does Not Imply Causation

By Ron Rosenberg

As you develop your marketing strategies, it's important to track results so you can make intelligent and informed decisions.

In other words, you want to have a firm grasp on cause and effect so you can reliably predict that "Variable X" produces "Result Y."

The problem is that many people confuse correlation with causation.

The most simplistic example of causation is this:

  • Rabbits have good eyesight
  • Rabbits eat carrots
  • Carrots cause good eyesight

Clearly, this is a leap in logic of gargantuan proportions, although it would make for an interesting marketing campaign by some "carrot industry group."

Causation is more compelling:

  • High cholesterol is bad
  • Crestor lowers cholesterol
  • Crestor is good

In this case, testing and clinical trials have provided data that backs up the claim that the active ingredients in Crestor cause a person's cholesterol to reach acceptable levels.

Of course, as with any medication, there's a long list of side effects that could actually be worse than the condition being treated, but that's another story.

The Role of Causation in Your Marketing

A few years ago, I wrote an article about an association that had undertaken a comprehensive study of of its members and their attendance at educational events.

Based on 15 key business-performance metrics, the association determined that members who attended the annual conference scored higher on these metrics than members who didn't attend. And not just in a few categories - but in every single one!

The problem is that we don't know which is the "cause" and which is the "effect." Do people learn strategies at conferences that help them perform better, or do people who are better performers recognize the value of continuing education and therefore attend events?

It would be tough to make a claim promising better results for people who attend conferences; however, it would be an extremely effective strategy to share the data and let members draw their own conclusions.

And this association did just that. It developed a study that utilized key metrics of business performance, gathered useful and compelling data around those metrics, and published the correlation of this data to its members.

Can you establish similar correlations between what you provide and the results your customers, clients, and members achieve?