Where’s the art in data-driven marketing?

Jun 16, 2017

MarketingCharts staff

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from MarketingCharts, a Watershed Publishing publication providing up-to-the-minute data and research to marketers.

Marketing today tends to be more science than art, though it’s not at the scientific level of software development and IT. At least that’s the view of more than 600 participants to a study fielded by Chief Marketing Technologist and Third Door Media. The results make some sense given that around one-third of the respondents identified as hybrid marketing/IT professionals as opposed to marketers. Moreover, a strong majority (72 percent) reported having done computer programming in some capacity, even as a beginner/amateur.

Not surprisingly, a solid majority (63 percent) of the study’s respondents believe that data-driven decision-making is more of a science than an art, though about one-third (33 percent) find it equal parts science and art.

So what elements of data-driven decision-making are more art than science?

Eighty-two percent feel crafting a narrative from the data to persuade others is more of an art than a science. This speaks to the importance of storytelling and the difficulties that some have with data storytelling.

A majority (65 percent) likewise believe that it’s an art to come up with the right questions to ask. This likely relates to interpretation of data but also the reason for conducting analyses in the first place, bringing to mind a study in which most decision-makers said that human insights should precede hard analytics when making decisions.

It’s also more art than science to visualize the data to better understand its implications (57 percent) and to take into account what isn’t included in the data (57 percent), per the study’s participants.

The science of data-driven decision marketing, according to the study, lies in the numerical analyses and validation, as well as determining which data can be used in answering a question.

In sum, and in the author’s words, “If marketing is becoming more scientific, it is — at best — a soft science, connected with fields such as psychology, sociology, economics, and anthropology. … The truth is that there’s an art to designing and running great experiments, even as — or because — the underlying process demands scientific rigor. Great science is incredibly creative.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you agree that certain parts of the marketing process (developing a narrative, coming up with questions, etc.) will always be more art than science? Do you see resistance to employing data-driven insights in such processes?

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"Marketing is in part the art of creating an emotional link, but it needs the grounding in facts and results that data science can provide."

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9 Comments on "Where’s the art in data-driven marketing?"

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Dick Seesel

It’s easy to romanticize the “good old days” of marketing and advertising — think of Don Draper cliffside, coming up with his greatest inspiration — but the reality is that data science has always played a role. (It used to be called marketing research.) The fact that data collection and analysis is far more sophisticated today doesn’t diminish the importance of creativity and instinct. Marketing is in part the art of creating an emotional link through brand equity, but it needs the grounding in facts and results that data science can provide.

Chris Petersen, PhD.

The art of marketing will always be the human creativity of developing new ideas, experiences, merchandising and formats to engage customers.

The science is being able to quantify and validate what works where and when.

Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)

Come on now. It’s no surprise that creating the narrative scores so high in the available options as this is the core of marketing. But I disagree that art is significantly more important than science. The essence of purpose-built messaging and images is to attract attention and then influence attitudes and behaviors. To know the current status of these and the objectives to be achieved is to influence what is presented. Art and science are twins or brain hemispheres in marketing.

Charles Dimov

“Great science is incredibly creative.” Spot on!

Today’s marketers need to be creative scientist/engineers. Having a mathematical, creative bent and a burning desire to figure out the answer to tough questions is where it’s at. The toughest part about marketing is creating those experiments, running a creative ad or campaign, then figuring out what works (that you double down on) and what does not (which you kill). Doing this fast and not merely jumping to conclusions — that’s the tough part! Don Draper — RIP.

Art Suriano

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? All marketers need to know how to use data, how to ask the right questions and how to apply those results to their business. A business will succeed when it incorporates the key elements of marketing by attracting customers with creative concepts, appealing ads, etc. targeted to potential customers they feel are right for their business. How do they find those customers? With well-done marketing research, asking the right questions and reading the results properly. But what the article does not mention is that numbers should be used to a point but that skilled decision makers also know when to listen to their gut, take chances and to stand by their decision. Today too many business leaders are afraid to make decisions, worrying that if it turns out to be a bad one, they will get the blame. But without risk taking and new and creative ideas, no business will reach its fullest potential.

Phil Masiello

Marketing has always been data driven. The only difference is that we can get an overwhelming amount of data faster than ever before. Understanding what the data is telling a marketer and interpreting the data to engage with consumers is absolutely art and not science.

A good example is the use of keywords. We accumulate lists of high value keywords for any given business. Reviewing just the specific keywords and the search volumes attached tells a very limited view of the consumers search habit. But carefully reviewing the long tail keywords to determine what problem the consumer is trying to solve by the different ways they use the keywords is the art. This led to the evolution of semantic search vs. keyword search.

I don’t see a lot of resistance to using data-driven techniques. The resistance is always believing and trusting what the data is telling you.

Dr. Stephen Needel

This is why God made marketers and researchers, because marketers don’t need to be great at doing the research — researchers do. Researchers don’t need to be great at marketing (although it helps). The two working together can make a formidable team. My favorite marketers are those who have an appreciation for research and push me to give them an understanding of what’s going on in the research. Then they take it from there.

Ralph Jacobson

Product and service trends evolve over time, as does our language. The email marketing templates you used a years ago are no longer relevant. The best practices today still require the finesse and artistic capabilities of the specialists to drive effective campaigns. Data only provides information and hopefully, insight. It still takes people to create the effective narrative.

Scott Magids
5 years 7 months ago

We’re seeing a tipping point in data-driven marketing today, and in my Harvard Business Review article “The New Science of Customer Emotions,” we talk about the scientific aspect of marketing and understanding emotional connections. The evolution of marketing can be seen along a continuum, with the earliest being purely human and instinctual. The first marketing technologies and forays into big data collection attempted to automate that human element and put live consumers into checkboxes, sometimes without much success – but the tipping point is in achieving a higher level of automation which brings back the human element, and uses technology not purely to automate, but to better understand the human experience. Data and the tools to collect it are only part of the story – effective marketing uses that data not just to categorize consumers, but to know them at an emotional level.

"Marketing is in part the art of creating an emotional link, but it needs the grounding in facts and results that data science can provide."

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