What can marketing learn from a deceased Japanese engineer?

3 June 2019

What can marketing learn from a deceased Japanese engineer?

The answer is: a lot. Because the engineer Genichi Taguchi developed a methodology which reduces manufacturing errors – and it also works in creating advertising campaigns.


The great Bill Bernbach once said that advertising is an art, not a science: “Advertising is fundamentally persuasion, and persuasion happens to not be a science, but an art.” But what if using scientific resources could result in more successful persuasion? Wouldn’t that be perfectly okay?

That’s how I feel, anyway. I don’t like striking luck in marketing. I want to know why a success is a success. So when I first heard about “Taguchi for Marketing” in 2005 I packed my suitcase and travelled to San Francisco. Here I met Dr James Kowalick, who was about to introduce the world to a new mathematical approach to marketing optimisation – the Taguchi test. If this is your first encounter with Taguchi, allow me to briefly introduce the method.

Used in industries that cannot afford to fail

The Taguchi test is named after its inventor, the Japanese engineer and statistician Genichi Taguchi. He developed a methodology for improving the quality of manufactured goods. Industries that cannot afford to fail have long since embraced this methodology. The automotive, aerospace and medical industries all make use of the Taguchi method.

I’ll spare you the maths, but in brief, the method works through a system of a few pretests wherein many parameters are tested at once, and with very great certainty it calculates what works – and just as importantly: what does not work.

Because, if you’re manufacturing aircraft, you would rather not discover the error once you are in the air. In the marketing world, the approach has often been launching the campaign and waiting till after to see whether it flies. But then James Kowalick had the bright idea of using Taguchi testing in marketing.

Improved response rate of 400%

Kowalick used the Taguchi method, among other tools, to improve the response rates to campaigns for an insurance company by 400%. Mind you, this was a company which had already done a great deal to optimise through simple AB tests and the like. I myself have never been involved in implementing a Taguchi method without improving the impact of existing communication by at least 20%.

We might not be manufacturing an aircraft that could fall out of the sky. But, as marketers, we can still experience anxiety over whether what we are doing will really work – because traditional methods cannot predict very much. But with the Taguchi test, you can avoid that anxiety, because it can be implemented for almost any form of communication as long as you have a clearly defined and quantifiable goal. This may be the number of clicks, permissions or sales – or something else entirely.

I have been involved in bringing Taguchi optimisation to everything from emails, direct post, web, banners, in-store and product design, just to mention a few areas. It works everywhere. Therefore, my advice is that you should choose a provider who can help you find the keys which are guaranteed to increase your sales. In just a few weeks, you can learn as much as you normally would after years of using other methods. And if you would like to start by learning a little more about the Taguchi test, you are of course more than welcome to contact me.

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