Begin at the end to plan the consumer journey

Rory Sutherland

Traffic planners could teach marketers some valuable lessons, writes Rory Sutherland.

I was listening to a gardening programme the other night and there was a question about trace elements in soil. I think someone's magnolias weren't doing well and so he wanted the panel's advice on "whether low levels of trace elements in his soil" might be to blame. Or something like that.

In his answer, the gardening expert explained that there wasn't much to be gained from shovelling molybdenum around the place with wild abandon: plants did not need huge quantities of trace elements – an acre might need only a few grams to last a hundred years. Equally, if there was none of it, you had a problem: whatever else you did, you would still end up with rubbish plants.

And everyone understood this perfectly well. That isn't because gardeners are especially clever: these are just the rules of botany as it is instinctively understood – small things sometimes have big effects. Gardeners instinctively grasp that a garden is a "non-linear complex adaptive system", although they don't call it that. In gardening it is just understood that the difference between success and disaster can come down to a very small thing.