Is Marketing Art or Science? This Post Will Make You Think About it Differently

Beautiful still life with professional art materials, close up

The question that marketing folks grapple with on a daily basis – Is marketing art or science? – has been explored inside and out. It’s been asked a million times by strategists, CEOs, clients, sales teams and everyone in between and the resounding answer seems to that, duh, it has to be both. They are two sides of the same coin – you need artistic vision and creativity in order to produce compelling content and you need scientific data and analytics to see what’s working and continue to improve your strategy.

Perhaps the better question to ask is which should come first in marketing: art or science? That way you’re not excluding or diminishing the power of each side, you’re actually empowering yourself by figuring out how to take the best possible approach and effectively incorporate both elements. Let’s start by breaking down the power of each side to better understand the whole equation.

The Art of Marketing

Art is all about expression. You’re trying to convey something to an audience or viewer, whether that is an emotion, a concept, a desire or whatever else. As it applies to marketing, then, art is about getting this something, (your “message” if you want to be crass about it) across to consumers in a way that makes your brand more relatable and appealing. Marketing-art-or-science-AppleThink about Apple’s clean, pristine, white website – it conveys feelings of serenity and trust. This kind of “art” in marketing has helped consumers round the corner on embracing advanced “smart” technology and devices.

The art of marketing is the right-brained creativity that makes a brand unique and special. It’s the emotions that are elicited, the visuals that catch your eye, the story that your brand creates. It’s the combination of stunning design, elegant copywriting and clever ideation. Essentially, the art of marketing is what helps to create a brand voice. When you think of Nike, you might think of endurance, dedication, stamina, athletic prowess. The Coca-Cola ads conjure of feelings of old Americana, happy summer days with friends, youthfulness and fun. Marketers strive to create these types of stories and associations artfully, in a way that makes a lasting impression on consumers.

The Science of Marketing

The science of marketing, on the other hand, is all about hard data and analytics – the left-brained side of the equation. It involves testing campaigns, slogans, colors, fonts, etc. and measuring the results in a very formulaic way. The kind of big data and analytics we have access to these days are a goldmine for marketers when it comes to figuring out what works and what is failing and where marketing dollars should be allocated.

The science of marketing is straightforward and machine-like. Marketing has always had an analytic side to it and today, more than ever, it’s a mistake to overlook technologies that enable better data collection and insights.. Research from MIT suggests that embracing data-driven marketing strategies enables you to make better decisions for your company, gain a competitive advantage and become more innovative.

marketing art or science test tubesIt’s clear that both art and science play a role in effective marketing. However, what’s interesting is that successful entrepreneurs have completely opposing perspectives on whether art or science should guide the marketing operation. To get some more in-depth wisdom on the topic, we went straight to the experts. We spoke with Joanne Tombrakos, Founder of One Woman’s Eye Consulting and Training, David Markovich, Founder of Online Geniuses and Chat Overload, and Matthew Wellschlager, VP of Marketing at Ceros (Twitter @Cerosdotcom) to see what insight they could lend us on the matter.

Marketing Art or Science: What the Experts Say

Tombrakos makes the case for the importance of art in marketing, largely based on the importance of storytelling in getting consumers to notice and relate to your brand. “Like most arts, there is and always has been science linked in – even before the advent of big data to help us inform our decisions,” she says.

“Good story has always had a structure and employed techniques to engage and keep us engaged – hence the science aspect. Good story literally changes our brain chemistry, releasing oxytocin, that mysterious hormone that makes us feel good – so our tendency is to try and find a formula that will make that happen all the time.”

Unfortunately, she goes on to say, that formula doesn’t exist. Data can help us create a better story and can make our content more discoverable, but it will never replace human creativity or our instincts and intuition.

marketing art or science dataMarkovich has a different opinion. He’s always been a big believer that marketing is more science than art. “There is art to it,” he explains, “but people don’t realize that there was a very big transition in the type of people that companies are hiring to be your marketers. Now marketers are also big data scientists. They used to be hired because of their social skills and now they are getting nerdier – they are scientists.”

He claims that science has to lead the way in marketing because clients and companies and investors all want data.

“Whereas before it might have been considered the pinnacle of success to have a huge billboard in Times Square, now you have hard data supporting the fact that your targeted email marketing campaigns are converting more users.”

Break down the numbers, he says – you can see you’re spending $1,000/day on email and $1,000/day on a billboard and one is simply working better than another. “You can back everything with hard data and that puts a lot of accountability on campaigns and on marketers themselves. And that’s a good thing. Data can literally tell you how to make money.”

Tombrakos argues that facts never speak for themselves and that there’s a danger to being too scientific about marketing. “It’s not the data at all – it’s the interpretation of it that’s meaningful. Data is not absolute, just like AI will never be more absolute than humans.” She believes that when it just boils down to the amount of money you’re making, companies end up losing out and not taking risks that have the potential for huge gain. “There’s no longer any room for what might work – that stifles creativity in a big way.”

That concept doesn’t fly with Markovich. “Too scientific? What is the other option?” he asks. “If you see for every $10 you put into Twitter you get $12 back and for every $10 you put into Facebok you get $9 back, you can’t argue with that.” He claims that you should still take risks and experiment, but always ensure that your strategy is guided by the facts.

But can data lead you astray in your marketing strategy?

Matthew Wellschlager argues that “data in marketing is a lot like Kurosawa’s Rashomon – look at it from a different angle and you get a totally different story.” He claims that marketers are drowning in data and being myopic about what they care about, all at the same time. While marketing was initially all creative because it lacked measurements, he says the last ten years it’s been all data and analytics.

“Data can be super comforting to marketers who want to ‘prove their worth’, but there’s a fundamental lack of creativity in marketing departments these days.”

Perhaps the tendency to ‘measure everything’ does result in more marketers who are playing it safe and taking fewer risks. Wellschlager is weary of this because he thinks that only the brands that are going to try new things and be prepared to fail are going to end up winning big.

marketing art or science mix“The right mix is somewhere in between,” he concludes. “You can’t prove that creativity works, that’s the problem. It’s largely unmeasurable. But companies on the whole are totally underinvesting in the creative side of marketing. The ones that are will be fine as run of the mill marketers – but they’ll never stand out and their careers will certainly be less exciting. You can rely on data but you’ll never make it above the fold without a lot of creativity in your approach.”

What we gleaned from all of this is that it’s important, and also a part of human nature, to trust what you can measure and see. Data and analytics, or ‘science’, can definitely help us learn from our successes and mistakes and invest money in worthwhile strategies. But if science leads and measures our marketing strategy, art should still be what inspires it.

What do you take away from this argument? Tell us what YOU think in the comments.