The danger of assumptions

Posted Nov 14, 2011 | ~3 minute read

Assumptions. The world is full of them!

Take insurance as an example. Being under 25 and male, if I phoned an insurance company asking them to insure me so I could drive a Lamborghini, what do you think they would quote? The same amount as a Citroen C2? Unlikely! Their quote will be based on assumptions that being both under 25 and male, I will drive like a maniac and probably end up writing the car off in a country lane ditch!! They would like to assume the worst of people. Are they right, well, they would never know, but nonetheless assumptions are key to their business

The web is no different.

I've seen it many times. When companies look to update or create a website they look at what their competitors do for inspiration. Whilst this is fine to a degree, people are making the assumption that just because the other company is successful, their website is perfect.

When company "A" looks at their industry leader "B", copies the features of their site and finds it doesn't work, they're none-the-wiser as to why it failed.

Let's run through an example together.

Example 1 - Copy-cat Bank

You and me have had a chat and decided that together we're going to start a new breed of bank in the UK. Hurrah! About time!

We sit down and look at what the major high-street banks do currently, and see that as a path to our success. We assume that by copying their business model, marketing strategies and website layout we'll be millionaires this time next year.

Launch day comes, and the bank flops. No-one wants to use us. Why? Because copy-cat bank is no different to any other high-street bank. There's no differentiating factor as to why people should use copy-cat bank rather than Halifax.

Example 2 - AgainstTheGrain Bank

Whilst the monumental flop took place with Copy-cat Bank, another bunch of forward thinking individuals put their heads together to set up their own bank, with a difference.

Instead of assuming the high-street banks have it right, these clever sods look at the current state of  banks and rip out the bits that they hate. They notice that some of the bits they like exist in high-street banks at the moment, but they're swamped with other junk that ruins the experience.

Cleverly crafting their own breed of bank, they feed off the fact they've created something different and get to work on marketing it. Because they've not copied the existing model their marketing is more effective, and although they're not millionaires within a year, their business is booming and they're eating away at the client bank of the existing banks.

Now to the point...

I'm not in any way saying that you shouldn't look at what your competition are doing. That would be daft. However there's a fine line between getting ideas, and becoming a sheep of "assumptions".

When you next look at a competitors site, instead of doing this :

"This company makes £3m a year and I've noticed their site is full of widgets. We need widgets! [SHOUTS TO THE SECRETARY] Order widgets by the truck load!"

Do this :

"Okay, so this company makes £3m with a site FULL TO THE BRIM of widgets. Everyone hates widgets used like this but we can't ignore the fact widgets are useful, so let's make it simpler and more fun. Let's review it after a month or two, and see what happens."