Is Science Killing the Art of Marketing?

Written on
Dec 7, 2012 
Richard L. Tso  |

Data is fundamentally changing how advertisers approach the art of marketing. Now, we can track pretty much anything online — our campaign decisions are influenced by factors that extend far beyond the impression and conversion metrics that permeated the ad industry just five years ago. Big data and the rise of new marketing analytics technologies can now give us insight into virtually every aspect of campaign performance, allowing brands to assign a value to the amount of time that a consumer spends with an ad creative, calculating online stickiness and engagement, measuring the viral sharing of content across the web, and even evaluating social influence and sentiment surrounding interactive content.

This metric-centric shift in advertising has enabled marketers to hone campaign approaches towards what they believe they can achieve – but this is not without some drawbacks.

“The biggest drawback of data is that it’s often misinterpreted and misused,” said iStockphoto’s Director of Marketing Sona Khosla. ”Data itself doesn’t really tell you anything; it’s all in the interpretation and answering the question of why. So data can also lead you down the wrong path and give you false confidence in your assumptions. Data is a lot like a sharp knife. When used skillfully, you can cut through and get some phenomenal results fast. If it’s mishandled, it can hurt your marketing efforts so much that your brand bleeds.”

Okay, so if science is stifling the creativity of marketers, why are so many relying on this data in the first place? Today it is just expected that advertisers use the data they have at their fingertips to attempt to calculate campaign success, even if the metrics don’t directly support the business decisions. Who really cares how many shares a particular ad had over another, or how much time people spent commenting on the ad? Will past performance really help predict the success of future campaigns? A CMO may demand access to key performance data, but this is also a way to cover his own ass. If the campaign fails, he can always point to the mound of data on his desk and say that the data steered them in the wrong direction.

Khosla also discusses the intrinsic value of science for advertisers: “Data is also changing our take-to-market strategies. We are no longer seeing the kinds of big bang launches where you’d send one big brand message, then have to hold your breath and wonder how it would be received. Instead we are seeing a lot of pre-market testing to find out what’s going to work best within select segments. Then big companies are rolling out the winning strategies to specific markets and audiences. It’s definitely creating a lot more work for new marketing organizations as we learn which segments respond to which messages, creative and channels.”

Gone are the days of relying solely on an advertiser’s creativity, passion and zeal when pitching ideas for a new ad campaign. Since everything today can be measured, there is no longer a guessing-game aspect to marketing, and this both a boon and a limitation. Embracing the unknown gives a creative marketer carte blanche to invent something truly unique and groundbreaking. Not being able to always predict the outcome of a campaign provides an inherent sense of freedom, that one is not limited by historical metrics or stodgy, legacy approaches that may have worked so many times before, but lack true originality. In the past, one’s creativity alone drove campaign success.

Richard L. Tso is a reporter for Adotas and an avid writer covering the intersection of technology and advertising, fashion and music. With over 12 years of experience in the Advertising, Marketing and Public Relations industries, Richard has held executive positions at global agencies and technology companies and is founder of the interactive communications firm Pseudosound Consulting LLC. A classical cellist and painter, he believes that sometimes sound carries more weight than words. He is a graduate of Stanford University.

Reader Comments.

Interesting article Richard. The trend in marketing, especially digital, is that science and creativity can and must co-exist and are, in fact, symbiotic. Being able to quickly test and determine which creative is performing requires a great deal of creativity as many iterations of copy and creative must be thought up and developed then tested and often times, the tweak to the copy or creative that blows the doors off a campaign is not something that would have likely been discovered without the additional creativity in “test the heck out of things” culture focused on ROI. If you put all your eggs in one basket on a creative hunch, what if you are wrong or more appropriately, what are the odds that you are right? Don’t get me wrong, creativity is absolutely required, but without science and data, it is insufficient. The key is to be careful about the analysis of data, which can be as self-serving for CYA, or worse yet, incorrect conclusions drawn from poor analysis can be the “nail in the coffin.” Thanks for sharing.

Posted by Rick Noel | 4:08 pm on November 27, 2012.

NO! – Math is no more killing the art of marketing than a mathematical understanding of perspective killed the art of painting during the Renaissance. No development will prevent marketers from continuing established practices. However, deeper insights delivered in a more timely manner unfetter “an advertiser’s creativity, passion and zeal,” empowering them to innovate new ad types, targeting, and delivery. Of course there will always be those who oppose disruption to the status quo, but I say, “forge ahead Galileo!”

Posted by Bill Guild | 11:13 am on November 28, 2012.

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