Marketing Art & Science – a perspective

This blog post was originally published in Brand Quarterly Magazine.

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There continues to be ongoing debate around the topic of the role of art & science in marketing. A debate that highlights why marketing as a function continues to struggle to assert itself and to deliver real commercial value.

As in all good stories, let’s start at the beginning. So what is the purpose of marketing? It is, in my belief, to connect an organization with the market and to do this in a way that benefits both the customer as well as the company. In simple terms, marketing is there to ensure there is a discernible need in the market, which the company is able to address in a unique, differentiated and profitable way. This market opportunity needs to fit the RWW model; it is a Real market that is Worthwhile and is also Winnable by the company.

It would seem logical that to be successful in identifying, validating and defining a RWW market opportunity, marketing needs information, knowledge, insights and if at all possible an ability to predict and foresee future trends. This sounds like SCIENCE to me.

I started out in marketing and by the age of thirty I was responsible for launching the fmcg company I was working for into a new overseas market. This new market was South Korea, a market that was different in almost everyway possible. I had to know how to run a P&L balance sheet, to run pricing scenarios, to understand and develop an integrated end-to-end supply chain, to analyse market segments and to build customer understanding through research. I had to bring all these scientific factors together to know what specific customer segment to focus on and how to go-to-market in order to build a profitable business.

I would therefore surmise that science has always been the foundation of marketing, otherwise how could marketing have any chance of ever connecting a company to a profitable customer segment.

So what is the role of art? Again, this is not complicated. Once a company has a well-defined vision, the next phase is to actually engage with your target customers. These customers aren’t numbers, they are human beings; each one is an individual who is unique with their own set of perceptions, emotions and characteristics. People want to engage with brands that are relevant, empathetic, compelling and that provide an overall experience that meets, or hopefully exceeds, their needs and expectations. The word experience is key. It conveys the level of overall emotional connection that the brand was able to create. This experience may rely on engaging all the human senses; colour, visual imagery, sound, touch & feel and even smell. This could be the UX design, the actual product design, packaging, how it is merchandised, the words, the overall story, the images and / or the channels used. This requires creativity, innovation and design. In other words ART.

In my book “Marketing Undressed” I explain the importance of both art and science in the following way:

I see customer satisfaction as the outcome of applying the science of marketing. It is the ability to understand the customer, to recognise their needs and wants and to provide them with the right offer or response depending on how the interaction took place. This is almost becoming a given, an expectation of every customer interaction. However, customer loyalty is dependent on the art of marketing, creating an experience that forms an emotional connection, where empathy is established by reflecting the values, thoughts and aspirations of the individual. This takes creativity and innovation.”

This provides a different way of looking at the same scenario but from a customer outcome perspective. The reality is that both art and science need to be applied by marketing, in equal measure. Frankly, it has always been that way. So why is this such a hot topic of debate right now?

My take on this is as follows. The advent of digital channels has dramatically changed the way that customers engage with companies. This has happened very quickly. The way that most companies have responded to this challenge has been to ask marketing to take responsibility for navigating the company through the digital transformation. A good example of this is the fact that marketing were the first function to understand and engage customers through social media.

However there has been a longer-term implication of this trend where, in my view, marketing has narrowed its focus too much on digital. I would almost go so far as to say pigeonholed. The challenge is that marketers have become one-step removed from their customers. A good analogy is the way corporate business now works, rather than meeting face-to-face or talking on the phone to colleagues we rely way too much on email. This is a way of engagement that removes emotional traits like body language, tone of voice, speed of delivery etc. When a large facet of the emotional component of the engagement is removed, we only receive half the story.

For me, this is why people say marketing is now just data science, focused on making sense of all the customer data that is received, bereft of customer emotion. This in turn has led marketing to become the lead generation engine, responsible for bringing interested parties to the company. But this is NOT the true function of marketing. Marketing is responsible for demand creation (not just lead generation). These two terms are frequently interchanged but they have very different meanings. Demand creation is about creating a demand for your product or service through the application of both art and science in equal measure to offer something so compelling, differentiated and relevant, that customers for your offering are created. This is the difference between creating a market and participating in a market.

For companies to be successful, they have to create markets and it is only when marketing is given the remit it requires, will this ridiculous debate of art and science be finally banished to the wings. In the meantime, every marketer should focus on the customer, the human being, and not just treat them as a number in the CRM system for analysis, scoring and inclusion in the next digital communication.

Please visit Brand Quarterly Magazine. It is a terrific resource for all marketers.