Marketing Art & Science – a perspective

This blog post was originally published in Brand Quarterly Magazine.


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.


B2B marketing: why the nature of the relationship really matters!

We are all aware that consumer expectations are increasing but a less widely talked about area is that of customers in a B2B setting. It is becoming clear to me that this area is following a similar path and that customers now expect more from the companies they engage with. The main foundation for this is context. Customers want to be engaged based on the nature of the relationship that they have with the vendor.

This has major repercussions for B2B marketing, as historically B2B marketers would run campaigns based on a specific market segment and would seek to treat customers in the same way as prospects. The overall goal being to create interest amongst an audience who are likely to have a similar set of challenges that could be addressed by your product or solution offering. But this approach doesn’t reflect any current relationship and engagement that the vendor might already have.

The answer is that B2B marketers need to consider a customer lifecycle approach where marketing campaigns and communications are adapted to the specific needs of the customer at the point of time in the relationship. This reflects a market-in approach where you start with the question “what is it that the customer needs right now and how can we help them?”

So here would be my recommendations for those wishing to test / pilot a customer lifecycle approach in a B2B environment:

For the customer, it is about who can help them address the critical business issues that they face. This is the area that many B2B companies do very well so I’m not going to cover it here.

The next stage is on-boarding. The most obvious priority for the customer is time to value. They want to embed the new offering into their business as quickly as possible and to start to reap the benefits.
Opportunity: Marketing collates data and feedback on the roll-out, organizing this in a way that helps identification of potential improvements, shares knowledge / tips & tricks on usage and also helps bring users into existing customer communities.

Once the system is up and running customers are always looking for ways to further improve performance. The market keeps changing, upgrades bring new features and other organizations using the same product find new ways to innovate and accrue more value.
Opportunity: Marketing is proactive in establishing interactions and communications that continue to build value for the client by sharing relevant knowledge and experiences around the product or products they have bought. Some companies have client success managers for this. The key though is to be proactive and to anticipate where additional value can be created rather than wait until an opportunity arises.

Organizations are always seeking to improve and generally there is always some form of maturity curve in place where you have industry leaders, followers and laggards. It is really important to know where your customer is at any point and also to have an appreciation of where they think they are, so you can guide them on what to consider next.
Opportunity: Marketing provides information to conduct an account review. This could be achieved through an ongoing survey or interview program. This information could be compared to the consolidated view of other companies within a specific industry, thereby determining the maturity of the customer in a specific area. This benchmarking helps to identify new opportunities. Discovery workshops and executive briefing programs can also support this.

Advocacy / Cross-sell
If an organization has successfully delivered on all of the above then you should have a potential customer advocate in play. However any advocacy or customer program has to be 2-way and ensure there is mutual value for the individual and / or company as well.
Opportunity: Marketing develops a customer program that is based on mutual value exchange and it is clear that the best way to open up cross-sell opportunities is through your current customer advocates. There has never been a harder time to gain the attention of new potential customers and internal customer referrals are like gold dust.

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So where are you now? I am very interested in knowing how companies in the B2B space are approaching this opportunity. “Times are as changing” as Bob Dylan would say and marketing needs to continue to evolve as customer expectations continue to increase.

Business transformation; the increased expectations of the connected consumer (Part 2)

Following on from my initial post, here are my five remaining pillars as to how the marketing function can support business transformation in the age of the consumer.

Agility is important as it enables an organization to respond more rapidly to changing market conditions. Creating an agile environment helps support creativity and innovation and can reduce the constraints imposed by the usual planning and execution boundaries. The foundation to be able to adopt an agile approach is to ensure that you set clear objectives and always focus these on defined market outcomes. This empowers execution to take its own path.
Marketing considerations; adopt a flexible organization structure, introduce project teams, take every network meeting you can to learn what is new in the market, deploy a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) approach and test, test and test.

It is simple and that is that your customers expect an organization to be connected. Their expectation is that however they engage or are engaged, the organization should act as one and to be able to recognize the full relationship that they have with the company.
Marketing considerations; provide a consistent customer view to all functions, establish a single preference center, introduce customer governance with rules on engagement & frequency of interaction and set outside-in customer metrics.

Customer engagement is becoming more complex every day as more data sources become available and there are more ways and channels by which a customer can engage an organization. Technology is crucial to help connect customer insights with engagement, improve response times, enable efficiency and provide organizations with wisdom for improved decision making.
Marketing considerations; always start with process and once defined then look at technology enablement, deploy a test, learn, adapt approach, fully commit don’t half bake and involve everyone who is a stakeholder throughout entire process.

Marketing has always been local. People have connections and ties to the local community, to their home town, to where they live which influence their beliefs, needs and areas of interest. Location is key to understanding context and understanding context is what helps marketing ensure offerings are relevant.
Marketing considerations; segment by geography, adopt a geo-cluster approach that combines demographic data with geographic data, assess impact of environmental conditions such as seasons & weather and ignite word of mouth marketing in key geographic / community / tribal clusters.

In today’s modern era successful companies are those that take a Market-In approach and focus on the customer first and foremost. The real trick is therefore to always ask yourself the following before making any investment or running any activity; will they care, is it important to them and do they benefit?
Marketing considerations; consider introducing a Customer Officer, develop a customer advocacy program where there is a mutual exchange of benefit, establish a communities portal and only engage with customers when there is value for them.

success concept

What are your TOP TEN and do you have any examples as to why they are important?

CMO leadership: how to succeed in the modern era

I am deeply honored and delighted to be nominated by the CMO Club for its annual CMO President’s Circle Award.  This award recognizes CMOs who have demonstrated success in leading teams, leadership in marketing innovation, and leading beyond just the marketing department.

Usually I am embarrassed by recognition such as this but it sparked me into thinking about what are the key leadership characteristics that would help make a CMO successful in today’s world.

When I think about leadership I always refer back to Jim Collins and his excellent book “Good to Great”.

In this book he talks about Level 5 leadership. Jim defines a Level 5 leader as “Building enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will”. In effect it is the ability to create and establish absolute clarity of purpose whilst ensuring that success is only seen through the action of others. To achieve this it means your primary focus can only be on two areas; the people you work with and the ability to build market understanding.

So here are some proposals as to how you can be an effective leader in these two areas. It is just a selection but hopefully it will be useful:

People and teamwork

  • Start with culture and establish a function that is built on respect, transparency, collaboration, shared success and fun.
  • Great culture will attract great people. Jim Collins once said; “if I were running a company today, I would have one priority above all others: to acquire as many of the best people as I could”.
  • Get to know the skills and competencies of your team members and focus their efforts on areas where they excel.
  • Always recognize, support and motivate your team members by focusing on the positives, whether it is success or opportunities to improve. This will ensure your team contributes more so imagine everyone gives a further 10%, you have just increased your FTEs by 5 people for a team of 50.
  • Allow people to be personally accountable and give everyone the chance to show what they can deliver.
  • Set goals on outcomes and not activities, this way you allow freedom to experiment and innovate.

Data, knowledge, wisdom and foresight

  • Always start with data.
  • Try and ensure that every decision made has considered all available insights.
  • Establish a marketing sciences team and empower them to always provide recommendations with any analysis.
  • Create a structured, uniformed segmented view of the market so everyone is looking at the market in the same way.
  • Set targets based on market / customer segments so you can better gauge progress at a micro level.
  • Make sure objectives are based on business outcomes and not just on specific activities as these end up being proxies.
  • Apply the concept of Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) so you report performance across all stages of the customer lifecycle in a joined up fashion. There is no benefit in doing 4 out of 5 things well if that one element that you don’t do well breaks the chain.

To best summarize this it brings me to the magic of Arthur C. Clarke who once said; “The Information Age offers much to mankind, and I would like to think that we will rise to the challenges it presents. But it is vital to remember that information — in the sense of raw data — is not knowledge, that knowledge is not wisdom, and that wisdom is not foresight. But information is the first essential step to all of these.”

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So, in signing off, if you get the right people onboard, establish a culture in which they can express themselves and then empower them with the best possible insights, you will have gone a long way to becoming a successful marketing leader.

The role of art and science in customer satisfaction and loyalty

There is significant talk nowadays of marketing being first and foremost a science and that the CMOs of the future will be data scientists.  In fact some editorials and opinions go so far as to say that unless you have a background in data and analytics you will not have a future in marketing.

The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) defines marketing as: “The management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably”, but does this really catch it all? Yes, it is extremely important to create satisfied customers but does this in itself evoke brand loyalty?

Take the example of an individual coming to the end of their mobile contract. They may well have been satisfied with the product and service but perhaps they are looking for a change, to try something new. On the other hand there might be an individual who is also coming to the end of their mobile contract and has suffered some issues but remains fiercely loyal due to the emotional connection they have established with the brand. Satisfaction does not necessarily infer loyalty.

I see customer satisfaction as the outcome of applying the science of marketing. It is the ability to understand the customer, to recognize their needs and wants and to provide them with the right offer or response depending how the interaction took place. This is almost becoming a given, an expectation of every consumer 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.

Jonathan Mildenhall, the creative genius at Coca-Cola best sums it up when he says, “Creativity is behind every leap in science and marketing”.


Finally, here is a link to a performance on Britain’s Got Talent. It is clever, great science at work but how do you feel when you watch it?  Does it light up your life, pull your heart strings and create a lasting memory? For me, this is creative genius, it is art at its very best and why great marketing will always require both art and science in equal measure.




Why successful brands are now reflections of people stories

Storytelling has been a fundamental part of human society since time immemorial. It has been the process by which we share, interpret and pass down knowledge and experiences.

The interesting aspect of storytelling is that it is the most effective way of transferring knowledge when people are gathered together in a social setting. The advent of social media and the creation of communities, hangouts and forums have created an environment for storytelling to again take center-stage and thrive. As individuals we love to hear about the experiences of other people through stories. There is nothing we enjoy more than listening to a story; we engage more intimately with a storytelling narrative than we do with other communications. This is because we all have a cognitive memory that is designed to understand, remember and tell stories. This is the way we think.

“So, what has this to do with brands?” you ask. Well, our expectations of marketing communications are changing, in large part due to the way we engage on social. This is now the way we expect to engage with brands. Don’t just tell me about your product. If you want to engage me emotionally tell me a story about how your customers engage with your product. We want to understand the brand experience through the eyes of another person and to understand the emotional experience it created. It’s all about empathy and how we can relate to what they experienced. We no longer believe in brand rhetoric, we want to hear the truth. Engage our hearts and minds.

A great example of this is the Cannes 2013 Lion winner. Unilever very successfully communicated the Dove brand as a reflection of the individual experiences of a number of people who narrated their personal stories. This narrative was compelling, believable, unique and emotionally inspiring and in my mind is the only way that brands can now convey their values in a way that truly engages an audience on an emotional level.

Another great example from the masters at Coca-Cola.


So if you’re not thinking of your brand as a reflection of the individual stories of your customers, then you may well have challenging times ahead.