The Pareto Principle

Of all the miscellany of management tools I picked up when I did my CIM diploma I love the Pareto Principle the best – it makes sense of many things in life. It’s also called The Law of the Vital Few and it’s in this context that I think it’s most useful for building digital experiences. Simply put it states that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. (If you are interested in how the principle was developed check out the Wikipedia entry on Pareto.)

Far too many digital practitioners believe that they are going to get a massive audience of engaged people using their tools and build their strategies around this – including development, design, marketing and measurement. They over pitch and under test and the projects never live up to expectations. They may have actually been highly succesful in web terms, but because they don’t deliver on the KPIs set by the project teams clients are disappointed and media circle for the kill. I’ve seen it time and again in all kinds of projects from websites to social networks to entertainment experiences to campaign sites. It doens’t have to do with the kind of audience you are trying to engage, it has to do with they way that all audiences engage in a digital environment.

This diagram illustrates pretty clearly the starkness of what the Pareto principle means for digital projects.

As digital practitioners we can be guilty of believing everyone has the same literacy with web tools and passion for active environments as we do ourselves. That leads us to design experiences with unrealistic engagement levels. When you consider that only 20% of your actual visitors are going to actively engage at all with your tools you can see that pitching a massive take up is a risky business.

Of course, if we do set have realistic expectations of engagement we can design effective experiences that don’t appear to have failed when they have actually succeeded. There’s always an upside.


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