Marketers: Do the math

I am intrigued by Carol Vorderman’s suggestion that pupils study maths to the age of 18. Vorderman heads a maths task force for the government and her report states that more than 300,000 16-year-olds leave school each year without enough grasp of maths to function properly in their work or private lives. Her proposal has been backed by the CBI, which is rightly concerned that one in five 16to 19-year-olds is innumerate.

I wonder what the stats would look like if they were run on the marketing profession. After all, we are forever accused of lacking any kind of commercial nous.

I am regularly dismayed when interviewing potential marketers by their inability to grasp numbers. If I could count the number of times that candidates have mis-calculated return on investment then I would be well-placed for Vorderman’s old job on Countdown. The most usual mistake is for candidates to think that if £100 has been spent on marketing to generate £100 of sales then they have reached breakeven. Sadly they have forgotten the cost to those sales and that something called margin is also important.

I am less sure if this is down to their lack of mathematical skill, but it is certainly indicative of their lack of grasp of the commercial world. The same thing is played out every week on Dragons’ Den, where the candidates often fall apart uponthe slightest interrogation of their figures. Brits of all ages are failing business maths.

Vorderman is an inspired brand leader for this task force. Her involvement adds up, not least because she has already secured significant exposure and column inches raising these issues.

Her team’s analysis is insightful, identifying that the GCSE curriculum leans towards advanced topics needed only by those who will study maths at A-level, putting off less gifted pupils.

“Too many people are being forced to master trigonometry and algebra when they can’t even calculate a percentage,” she rightly says. That certainly rings a bell.

Her solution is to split maths into two exams. One would offer a high standard of education in the basics, while the other would prepare nerdy wannabe mathematicians out there for A-level.

Segment and differentiate, as we like to call it in marketing. Carol would be a good addition to our ranks. She’s got good grasp on the numbers and her brand planning skills are highly promising…

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