Are you heading to the beach today?

Woman sitting on beach

The hot weather in the UK has gone to people’s heads. Half a million people descended on sedate Bournemouth in just one afternoon this week. That’s more visitors than they get on the hottest Bank Holiday Monday in August when they host an international airshow. People who had travelled for two hours and endured massive traffic queues to get there were seen on TV complaining about the “stupidity of people” all going to the beach at the same time when they were meant to be social distancing. Yes, that’s right; the people who had done the stupid thing were the ones complaining about other people behaving ridiculously.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the planet during their winter, Australians were doing something similar. They were rushing to the supermarkets to buy toilet rolls in the millions. They went so crazy for more tissue that the stores had to step in and ration purchases. There have even been fights amongst shoppers desperate to get their hands on a pack. 

Then, back in the UK, when Liverpool won the Premier League on Thursday evening following a 30-year wait, tens of thousands of fans descended upon Anfield just to be outside the ground to celebrate. Don’t tell them that their beloved stadium was originally the home for their arch-rivals, Everton. That could turn the crowd “nasty”.

Crowds behave in odd ways. The people packed in on the beach in Bournemouth were urinating and defaecating in public spaces. Usually well-behaved middle-aged Ozzies were scrapping over tissue paper. And Liverpool fans were so overcome with emotion they were cuddling each other at midnight outside an empty sports ground knowing that it was against “lockdown rules”.

But don’t go thinking that odd behaviour in crowds is restricted to hot-headed Londoners travelling down to a beach. Nor is the daft behaviour of crowds limited to Liverpool fans or Australians. You can witness stupid group behaviour in business people almost every day of the week.

As you read this, there are millions of business executives around the world pinning their hopes on their latest online advertising spend on “pay per click”, for instance. Each day hordes of businesspeople flock to advertise their wares on Google and Facebook. Yet the data about online advertising are clear. Almost no-one engages with it. The people making the most money out of online advertising are Google and Facebook, who just pocket the cash from the crowds of business people all headed off in the same lemming-like direction together. They may as well just give the tech giants money for doing nothing, because, often that is what is happening.

Now, I know that online advertising does work and that you will tell me that it has helped your business grow. Well done. But if that is the case, you are amongst a minority. Conversion rates for online advertising are pitifully low.

Similarly, you might tell me that all that social media activity you have been doing has significantly improved your profitability. That is undoubtedly true for some, but once again, not for all. Many businesses who spend money on social media campaigns get little, if any, return. At the moment, the data show that people are flocking in their tens of thousands towards Tik Tok – the latest shiny toy that will, apparently, revolutionise your business. “We should go on Tik Tok”, say business owners and marketing people up and down the land. Why? Oh, I get it, “everyone” is doing it. It must be the right thing then, surely?

Wherever you look online, you can find examples of “crowd behaviour”. When I work with companies and ask them “why are you doing that”, their answer is usually along the lines of “everyone else is doing it”. So, I can fully expect those business people to be fighting over toilet rolls or heading to Bournemouth beach, can I?

Just because “everyone else is doing it” does not mean it is a good thing or the right thing to do. If everyone else were throwing their hard-earned cash out of the window, would you do the same? But, in reality, that’s what many businesses are doing when they follow the online crowd.

Think. Analyse. Consider alternatives.

At the moment, the businesses that are doing really well online are those which are based around subscriptions. When people have subscribed to a service, even in lockdown, they will continue to want whatever it is they have been enjoying for several months before. One of the most successful online subscription businesses is different. They don’t advertise online.  They don’t use pay per click. Instead, they have door-to-door sales staff. An online company with real-world physical face-to-face sales. That’s not the norm. That’s not following the crowd.

When your competitors are all headed in one direction, it’s probably the time to turn around and go the other way. Following the crowd is not the best strategy in many situations. And it is certainly not the best way of staying free of COVID-19. Just because “everyone else” is having barbecues, heading off to the beach, or queuing to get into the newly opened pub, does not mean you should do the same.

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