OPINION6 September 2017

A different order

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Behavioural economics Impact Opinion UK

Measurement is often seen as an obligation rather than an opportunity but with a few important changes it can be used to inform decisions in advance, rather than defend them in retrospect, says Rory Sutherland.


While I was growing up, my father ran a series of small businesses. No-one in my family had ever worked in a large organisation – they were mostly farmers, rural GPs or suchlike. So, during my first few years at Ogilvy, I assumed big businesses operated much like small ones, only on a larger scale. This, I quickly learned, is far from the case.

In my first month as a trainee, I spent two weeks in the creative department of what was then called Ogilvy & Mather Direct. One of my tasks, working under an experienced American copywriter, was to write a solicitation letter, cross-selling a fairly obscure financial product. Call it beginner’s luck, but the letter was quite a success; the response rate was twice that of the control and the ROI was 5:1 in the first six months alone (it was a fairly profitable product).

“Wow, ” I said. “Let’s mail some more people ...