Is marketing an art or a science? This is a more important question than the typical “chicken versus egg” treatment it usually gets because it sets up two questions:
First, what sort of marketer are you? Are you an “artist” or a “technocrat”? A Branson or a … well, “technocrat”? Some gravitate to one role better than they do to the other and acknowledging how you do what you do up front helps not only your team and your shareholders, but it also helps you come to grips with how you want to approach your role.
Second, it goes a long way in aligning you with the CEO, who may or may not share your enthusiasm for things like “buzz.” So, quite apart from a purely academic exercise, how you answer this question goes a long way in determining how you and your CEO will end up getting along. Let’s take a quick dive into each, tackle the advantages and pitfalls of each, and see if we agree. Or not.
Marketing as art:
First and foremost, marketing is about creating desire. Creation, by definition, is an active word and requires an artist’s imagination. Regardless of your need to measure, one must measure something of worth and value. I’ve seen too many Mid-Range Plans that have endless statements of the obvious and pitifully little creative attention to “what we will do.” Analysis isn’t what marketers are paid to do. Creating desire is what they’re paid to do, and measuring the worth of their efforts is the professional hygiene that comes with the territory. Therefore, marketing is an art.
Advantages: there’s a certain “damn the torpedos!” sprezzatura to a “marketing as art” type of company. They’re creative, fast, and they do stuff that other brands wish they could do. They believe in causing a fuss in the market and are generally fun to be around. Assuming you’re a consumer.
Pitfalls: if your CEO thinks marketing is an art, you’re probably in for a rough time because your CEO is going to end up as the artist in residence. If you like taking notes, this is a good CEO for you. If you like to do marketing, this is going to be a frustrating experience.
Marketing as science:
First and foremost, marketing is the science of predicting human behavior. The human behavior we’re looking to predict is how often and with what frequency people are going to buy our stuff. Period. Desire is pointless unless action is taken, and unless we know with a reasonable degree of certainly if and when and how frequently this ever-so-important action will happen, we have lost our case. We can be wildly creative and drive our potential customers mad with desire, but we still need the discipline to remember that our ability to measure the incremental gains and the ultimate scalability of our efforts spell the difference between a self-absorbed expense and a game-changing campaign.
Creativity without discipline is a hobby. Therefore, marketing is a science.
Advantages: marketing as science companies tend to be internally predictable. Yes, you will be working for a CEO who believes marketing is black magic and will treat you as someone to be carefully watched, but at least you have them painted into the corner of your own choosing. You test and measure well and it’s hard to turn you down when you ask to scale intelligently.
Pitfalls: you will spend far more time managing internally than externally in a “marketing as science” culture. We all have a desire to go through our own pre-game arming sequence, strapping on high-impact programs and launching campaigns at will, and in this type of company this will remain an unfulfilled fantasy. Take solace in the fact that you can prove your worth easily and shame your colleagues in finance into supporting you when the math is on your side.
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The role of a professional marketer is to create desire and drive action in a predicable, scalable manner. Your CEO wants to know what one more dollar spent in marketing will give the company. So does everyone else at the board room table. Forget for the moment that no one at that same table could answer this same question posed to them about any other functional group in your organization, but this is no excuse for you not to have an answer. Everyone demands that marketing answer this imponderable question because marketing is the one function that everyone thinks they intuitively get and no one fully comprehends. So test often, measure everything, heavily borrow from other successful companies (especially those who believe marketing is an art, because they make the best case studies) and ask for more money with the facts on your side.
Marketing demands creativity and discipline, much like architecture, medicine, physics, sports, parenting and everything else. You can decide whether this makes it an art or a science.
I suspect every successful professional marketer would agree that marketing is part art and part science. No argument there. However there’s a statement in the “art” section with which I don’t agree: “First and foremost, marketing is about creating desire.”
Marketing, in my view, is about understanding consumer needs and behaviors, and then coming up with creative ways to satisfy those needs (and either fit into the behaviors or change them) … and make a profit by doing it well. “Creating desire” has nothing to do with what marketers should be doing. And thinking of it that way makes us all flim-flam con-artists trying to pull one over on the poor consumer.
This article demeans professional marketers in that way.
Now, if we get to advertising or copywriting, then perhaps “creating desire” is a legitimate [secondary] goal. I’d still say the primary objective is to communicate a unique and compelling positioning benefit. And if that’s done well, the result could well be an increased desire that ultimately leads to a purchase.
Anyway, thanks for a provocative and interesting article.
Michael: thanks for stopping by and for leaving a very thoughtful comment!
As you clearly grasped, I’m not fully embracing either polarized position. Marketing isn’t so easily pigeon-holed as a pure art or science. As such, it’s hard to clearly come down with any credibility as being “for” or “against” either.
All that being said, you’ve brought up a point that I disagree with – marketing’s role isn’t to analyze, understand or comprehend. These are precursors to “action.” The action we are paid to do is influence our customers to act. In this sense, marketing is about creating desire – to prefer, to endorse, to promote and to BUY. This isn’t flim-flam, it’s commerce. Shareholders want to know how marketing contributes to share price (and bottom line), and all the analysis in the world doesn’t help unless it is followed by concrete action. I don’t think you’re going to disagree with this point, but it bears repeating.
Second, suggesting that marketing’s primary objective is to communicate a unique and compelling positioning benefit is fine – assuming “compelling” means that it creates a desire on the part of the buying public to buy. You’ve presented what could be interpreted as a brand-cenric view here as opposed to a customer-centric one, which is something to be careful of. It’s about them, not us.
I wrapped up this post with a nod to each – that marketing requires creativity in order to stimulate the desire to buy and the discipline to know what works and what doesn’t – and I think we’re both on the same page here. The only thing demeaning to professional marketers is suggesting that they are the sole preserve of either extreme.
thanks for this post, very informative and helpful.
I also applaud you on a well-written post, but will suggest that if your CEO thinks marketing is an art, you’re not a CMO “in for a rough time”. Instead, you’re probably not really a CMO, despite the fact you carry the title. An “Evolved CMO”, (a moniker proposed by Penn State researchers Raj Grewal and Rui Wang based on their analysis of Fortune 100 senior marketing job descriptions) is neither an artist, nor a scientist. I will suggest that “artists” and “scientists” are people that report to the CMO.
A CMO is a visionary that is held accountable for building the intangible assets of the firm by creating customer equity and long-term business sustainability. They do that by orchestrating the activities of their team of artists and scientists – and of equal or greater importance – influencing the other functional areas to support their efforts. Said another way – marketing is an art and a science, but a CMO must be of a higher order. If we are not, we are doomed to be pigeon-holed as one or the other.
Yours very truly,
Editor, The CMO Journal
WL: thanks for your note – any further commentary from me on this point would be redundant. We agree fully.
Great post. My approach to strategic change management says the quality of the first five percent determines what happens in the rest of the process. This same principle applies to many situations.
I’d like to hear you talk a little about something that is neither art nor science with respect to marketing: the role of intuition.