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How relying on analytics too much can sabotage your success

A video about James Harden crossed my desk yesterday. And as I’m sure you’ve come to expect, there’s a copywriting and marketing lesson I picked up from it.

(Quick side note: Once you figure out how to “perk” your ears to content ideas, you can get them from literally anywhere.)

The video posed an interesting question:

How good could James Harden have been if he played basketball 10 years earlier?

Here’s why this question is so interesting:

Y’see, James Harden has both a gift and a curse playing in the current era of analytics:

Daryl Morey, who was the General Manager for the Houston Rockets when James played for them, and who is now the President of Basketball Operations for the 76ers (where James currently plays) is a big analytics guy. In fact, because of analytics, he made James Harden play a completely different style of ball.

Daryl figured out that every time James did an iso, they got 1.2 points per possession. And every time James ran a spread pick and roll, they got 1.15 points per possession. So, based on the analytics, Daryl asked James why even run anything else?

And while this hyper analytical approach to basketball resulted in James leading the league in scoring and winning an MVP… James never won a championship. He may never win a championship either because he’s past his prime.

It doesn’t help that James’s style of play didn’t carry over into the postseason either. He relied too heavily on getting fouled and shooting free throws, something that falls off a cliff in the playoffs. And by playing a hyper-individualized style of ball, if James didn’t play well in a playoff game (which has become his calling card of sorts), then his team would lose.

But what if James played 10 years earlier?

Well, there’s a good chance he would have a championship or two under his belt.

Daryl’s analytical approach completely erased James’s off the ball movement, and his mid range jumper—both of which lead to easier buckets in the playoffs.

So, James would probably have been a better playoff player in a more traditional style of ball. He probably would’ve been a better defender too—which translates into playoff wins.

Of course, we’ll never know, but it’s a good cautionary tale for copywriters, marketers, and business owners everywhere:

Yes, analytics are important.

But don’t put too much emphasis on them. Otherwise, you miss the forest for the trees.

For example:

Imagine testing everything in an email (to keep it simple) and optimizing everything to the point where it becomes robotic:

You know that a gray background works better than a white one.

That subject lines starting with “How” generate the most opens.

That product X makes the most sales consistently.

And so on and so forth.

This approach works well, until it doesn’t. Because while you’re too busy optimizing every aspect of your email, you don’t spend enough time, say, interviewing your best customers so you can put their words—words which WON’T pass your optimization test—into your emails. You’d never know that an email using this unoptimzied approach could bring in 3x more than the optimized approach.

When it comes to email copy, yes you want to know some key metrics. But you also have to give yourself room to defy your standards. Some of these emails will be massive losers. But a couple will win so big that your business will never be the same again.

Copywriting is an art, so to speak. And you don’t have The Renaissance period by optimizing the middle ages.


Need help making more moolah from your email strategy? Hit reply, and let’s chat.


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