Monday, June 18, 2007

Plato's View of Marketing Performance Measurement

I reread Plato’s Protagoras over the weekend for a change of pace. What makes that relevant here is Socrates’ contention that virtue is the ability to measure accurately—in particular, the ability to measure the amount of good or evil produced by an activity. Socrates’ logic is that people always seek the greatest amount of good (which he equates with pleasure), so different choices simply result from different judgments about which action will produce the most good.

I don’t find this argument terribly convincing, for reasons I’ll get to shortly. But it certainly resembles the case I’ve made here about the importance of measuring lifetime value as a way to make good business decisions. So, to a certain degree, I share Socrates' apparent frustration that so many people fail to accept the logic of this position—that they should devote themselves to learning to measure the consequences of their decisions.

Of course, the flaw in both Plato’s and my own vision is that people are not purely rational. I’ll leave the philosophical consequences to others, but the implication for business management is you can’t expect people to make decisions solely on the basis of lifetime value: they have too many other, non-rational factors to take into consideration.

It was none other than Protagoras who said “Man is the measure of all things”—and I think it’s fair to assume he would be unlikely to accept the Platonic ideal of marketing measurement, which makes lifetime value the measure of all things instead.

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