That is the famous quote often attributed to economist John Maynard Keynes. Only the thing is, apparently, he wasn’t the guy who said this in the first place! It was another fellow by the name of Paul Samuelson who deserves the credit for this quote (Financial Times). It’s a great saying though:
“When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”
It’s genius in its simplicity, yet very profound and applicable to so many areas of life. I want to dissect this saying and see what kinds of lessons we can glean from it to make ourselves better digital marketing professionals.
What Does this Quote Actually Mean and How Does It Apply to Digital Marketing?
The real John Maynard Keynes also changed his mind a lot and adjusted his expectations to changing conditions in the market. He would see the trends come and go and it was said that Keynes always had at least two opinions when people asked him for his thoughts.
This shows great intuition and thinking on Keynes’ part. Like him or hate him, the man had an interesting way of thinking about the world. He was the author of The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money, a book I actually read many years ago when I was obsessed with economics. I didn’t major in econ, but I did read a whole AP Economics textbook on my own without even needing to take the class for it when I was in high school and learned a lot. It was one of those Greg Mankiw textbooks on Macroeconomics.
Much like my unexpected journey into economics, Keynes had insights that might seem unexpected for today’s digital marketers.
I’m surprised I just remembered this now, but it’s more interesting tidbits about my life that I seldom get to discuss in interviews. That’s a huge motivation for me to write frequently on this blog now. I have so many weird, yet fascinating life stories I’ve never shared with anyone until now, so you’re welcome!
More Quotes from The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money Applicable to Digital Marketing
One of the most standout Keynes quotes I could find from this book is as follows:
“Practical man, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the sleeves of some defunct economist.”
Let’s unpack what this means and gain interdisciplinary insights to make us better marketers. So when Keynes is talking about the practical man, he’s referring to the practitioners who do hands-on stuff. Kinda like what I do a lot of the time, implementing real-world strategies and tactics on websites and creating paid ads too.
But he’s also saying that even practitioners still have to understand the theory and fundamentals behind what they are doing too. For example, pay-per-click has many moving parts. You have to understand how to track revenue, measure conversion rates, write good ad copy that gets eyeballs, and make sure you have proper account structure from the bottom up.
It seems daunting when you’re completely new to the game but after many times of doing the same thing, it becomes second nature and you know what to do without much training.
Social Media Marketing Professionals Are Also Practitioners With Real Hard Theory Behind Their Tactics!
Or how about with social media marketers?
Many people mistakenly assume that all social media marketing is posting “easy” content on Facebook. Well, you’re wrong. There’s a content and branding strategy behind a lot of really successful social media marketing campaigns.
There are real geniuses behind these tactics that work for major brands. Arielle Berlinsky on LinkedIn is a shining example of a social media marketer who knows their stuff and has the proof and cojones to back up everything she does.
She’s got over 4000+ followers on LinkedIn and is always sharing fantastic insights from her time working at Delta as a Social Media Marketing Coordinator. I was shocked to learn that she graduated college 3 years after I did, but it goes to show that no matter the age of the person or what generation they came from, you can learn something from anyone.
I really admire her tenacity and passion, and it’s been so infectious ever since I came back on LinkedIn to build my profile from scratch again. I never realized how much insight one can gain by learning from other kinds of digital marketers like her even if social media isn’t your main thing. The insights you can learn can apply to all the other forms of digital marketing if you’re open-minded!
More Relevant John Maynard Keynes Quotes to Digital Marketing
Here’s a really powerful one that I found too:
“The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed, the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually slaves of some defunct economist. Madman in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler a few years back. I am sure that the power of vested interests is vastly exaggerated compared with the gradual encroachment of ideas.”
So this one has more to unpack, but there are several key takeaways you might want to consider:
1. No matter who’s come out with the latest digital marketing strategy or “hack” is really just building on decades of marketing practices and theory no matter how much they want to say that the theories you learn in college don’t apply anymore. In my opinion, you still need to understand marketing basics like SWOT analysis to be an effective marketer in the digital realm. You’re still in many ways spotting competitors, examining their weaknesses and strengths, and then formulating conclusions on how to take some of their market share. I took a few marketing classes in college, and this was the sort of stuff they actually taught, even if there wasn’t much emphasis on digital marketing.
2. Keynes also had some points about the “vested interests.” For us, that would be companies like Google and Facebook whenever they make changes to their platforms, or with the rise of AI-generated content. A lot of disruptive technology coming into the space, but you shouldn’t be so quick to worry about it. People have been reporting that straight AI content doesn’t rank well at all on Google. The human element to marketing is still alive and well, but in a different form now.
3. Even the “madmen in authority” in digital marketing learned to do things the “correct” way for years before getting inventive and starting to break the rules and do their own thing. Brian Dean is the best example of this in action with his site Exploding Topics and his desire to break the mold and move away from the more conventional strategies used often in SEO to this day. I interpreted the madmen sentiment to refer to practitioners in the field who want to be more creative and bolder with their approaches to interrupt the status quo.
There are so many other insights to gain from this one quote alone, but these are the most important ones that stood out to me.
Just with these three points alone, there’s enough to ponder and many more insights you can gain analyzing these quotes for yourself.
John Maynard Keynes and others like him were ahead of their time with their thoughts and writings. You can do the same thing and look at what other economists like Milton Friedman had to say about money and extrapolate valuable insights that can apply directly to digital marketing. While this post seemed like a stretch when I came up with it, I’m very satisfied with the lessons I was able to learn from doing this exercise. I hope it has made you think more critically about what we do as digital marketers! Thanks for reading.