Marketing: Art or Science?

Will People Ever Agree?

The persistent debate rages on: art pulls one way; science pulls another. The forces driving the debate seem out of control at times, and the Infor Orbis CEO, Grant Halloran, wonders whether a happy equilibrium will ever be struck… a universal appreciation that marketing is neither art nor science alone.

As is the way of the business world today, we sometimes lose perspective on a topic because of the sheer weight of meaningless words surrounding it. Babylon was a crazy place, and so are most business meeting rooms (or are they ‘war rooms’?) today. Marketing is at risk of letting its debate implode before it gets anywhere near the obvious answer, simply because of semantics – or lack of them. Half the people in the room are thinking ‘that word means X’ and the other half think it means Y.

A natural inclination is for the people from the ‘creative services’ part of marketing to think that the art is being lost, and for the increasingly fiscal-driven marketing director to think there isn’t enough science in all of this.

Hmmm, ‘science’? When I went to school science was done in the labs with breakers and burners. ‘Art’? Art, for me, was that part of the day to get your hands dirty. Funnily enough, at the end of both classes I had created something. In both classes I tested before I committed myself, and in both classes I used intuition, experience, methodical process and proven formulae as I did my work.

Just because marketers today want (and need) to express outcomes numerically doesn’t’ mean intuition, savvy, experience, and self-criticality are abandoned. The much-vocalized threat of marketing being one day run by accountants is silly. The finance guy or girl is the marketer’s new best friend in the playground, but they aren’t about to start swapping lunches.

Similarly, creative suppliers to marketers are increasingly realizing the power of robust application of process. An agency just cannot service a big business today without it. There is just too much to do, and too many risk points along the way. I think agencies have some further work to do in this area. It would be encouraging for agencies and clients to ask together ‘if this process- the way we work together- bridged a wide and high ravine, would we walk across the bridge?’ While some will say yes, most will immediately know there are simply too many weak points. Sorry, but I won’t walk across a bridge if I know it fails three times out of 10.

Equally, within the walls of the client, the fun has just begun. Strategic assessments, opinions management, customer segmentation, internal stakeholder engagement, critical path management, investment modelling, predictive outcome models, real-time reporting, marketing budget control, actual ROI assessment, review and approval checkpoints and assumptions reviews. Marketers distinguish themselves from the rest of the company by being managers of vast numbers of complex projects. And the tidal flow is strong. Year after year new staff, and creative suppliers, will come and go, but the sheer number of marketing projects will never ease off. In fact, the trend is for more campaigns, more discreetly targeted in terms of audience, offer and timing, as new technologies enable marketers to manage their ‘projects department’ more efficiently and economically.

Marketing is Business

Marketing is neither art nor science. Marketing is business. The ‘imaginative’ outputs are but a very small part of the overall boundary of a marketer’s domain. Indeed, if the trend continues, pretty soon anyone unable to articulate the link between marketing management and shareholder value risks being labelled a laggard.

In the pursuit of operational and economic excellence, marketers and their partners need to be: fluent in the same ‘financial-outcomes’ language; capable of establishing best-practice, systemized, processes; and cognizant of the effects of their activity on shareholder value. Encouragingly, many businesses I know are working hard at this and (I hope) having some fun along the way.