Art versus science: getting the balance right in marketing
Cutting-edge analytics have shifted the focus of marketing from art to science. Amanda Taylor looks at the role of the left and right brain in modern marketing and analyses how to get the balance right.
This article originally appeared in The Versus Issue, our February/March issue of Marketing mag.
Is marketing a science or an art?
According to best-selling author Seth Godin, it is either one or the other. “Some marketers are scientists. They test and measure. They do the maths. They understand the impact of that spend in that market at that time with that message. They can understand the analytics and find the truth. The other marketers are artists. They inspire and challenge and connect. These marketers are starting from scratch, creating movements, telling jokes and surprising people.”
For many working in the modern marketing environment, Godin’s argument may seem oversimplified. Can we shoehorn marketers into one camp or the other, or do marketers need a mixture of creativity and analytical skills to succeed?
Today’s marketers have a multitude of scientific tools at their fingertips to analyse consumer behaviour, as well as optimise operational factors such as resource allocation and crunch sales, revenue and profits data.
Yet, without the role of right-brained creativity – memorable design, copywriting that connects with the consumer and even old-fashioned gut instinct – many of the best-planned campaigns can fall flat.
Here we pull apart the art and science of marketing and ask: how can marketers strike the right balance?
For traditionalists who view marketing as an art form, the job is a way to appreciate the nuances of human behaviour and make an emotional connection with the customer.
Consider the prolific use of the colours red and yellow by fast food brands. Red is known to stimulate appetite, create a sense of urgency and attract attention, while yellow implies friendliness and is the most visible colour in daylight. With the simple combination of two colours, fast food businesses encourage us to buy their products, eat quickly, feel uplifted by the experience and keep coming back for more.
Or, think of some of the best brand slogans of all time. These taglines succeed in expressing a complex emotional concept in just a few words – Nike’s ‘Just do it’, L’Oréal’s ‘Because you’re worth it’, Tesco’s ‘Every little helps’.
Ramon Rodriguez, DDB’s head of design, has worked on successful campaigns including the Big Mac ‘Legends’, Golf GTI ‘Driving Academy’ and Cancer Council ‘Hope’. He says the most successful projects today fuse design thinking with an appropriate design aesthetic and are driven by experienced marketers who understand the importance of the creative process.
“The marketers I have found to be the most understanding and accepting of creative work have generally worked overseas on different brand accounts and have been working successfully with award-winning agencies,” he says.
Yet science is playing an increasingly significant role in today’s marketing funnel. From a customer engagement perspective, analytics now allow marketers to attempt to pinpoint who potential customers are, what they want, how they want to be contacted and what influences customer loyalty.
Data is also allowing marketers to better plan their strategies to optimise performance and cut-through. With data, marketers can determine the optimal marketing spend across channels, as well as continually optimising marketing programs through testing, measurement and analysis.
Nick Utton, currently chief marketing officer at BMC Software, has been behind some of the financial services industry’s most successful campaigns, including Master Card’s ‘Priceless’ and E Trade’s ‘Talking Baby’. He argues that the majority of great campaigns today are 70% science and 30% art.
“My original background was at Unilever where the thesis was that marketing was 50/50. You fast forward that to financial services and realise that the data components can be very powerful, and you rely a little bit less on intuition as you progress.
“My personal thesis is that if you are not using the science piece overtly, with the best possible information to make smart decisions, you cannot optimise your business. But, without the art, you don’t end up with big campaign ideas that can truly connect with people around the world.”
Utton says a key challenge for marketers today is sifting through the reams of information to find meaningful action points.
“Every month there is another vendor with another tech application to help us make smarter decisions. We could just keep buying all this tech and getting all this data, but as CMOs, we can’t read 400-page reports so we need to synthesise the information into two pages and then ask, ‘what are the three key decisions I need to make and why?’”
The systematic approach
Alex Kirk, head of systems and automation at MediaCom, has worked on both sides of the fence in both creative and analytical roles. He believes art and science are supposed to be in tension.
“Without both in play, there are connections that can’t be made. And, since connections are what we’re supposed to be all about, even having the ‘art versus science’ debate can hamstring you from the start.”
“It’s hard to challenge your own specialism’s thinking – ideas people will always espouse ideas, data folks will always espouse data. It’s down to an organisation’s leadership to balance the two, and that’s where it’s difficult.”
Kirk says marketers are still in the early days of getting the balance right, but companies that approach their problems as a ‘system’ – where it is recognised that all parts of the organisation a ect and work together with the others – are the ones that will thrive.
“If your approach to business is siloed then that fails to recognise both how connected everything is and the full range of opportunities that are open to you,” he says.
Getting the balance right
Striking the right balance between art and science is a challenge facing many brands. There are numerous examples of brands that have had artistically creative ideas that have failed to hit the mark.
Take Microsoft’s 2009 ‘Oh my God, I’m Gonna Puke’ ad for IE8, which was pulled shortly after launch. The ad featured a woman vomiting after seeing her husband’s internet browsing history and sparked scores of complaints.
Besides the stomach-churning experience of watching someone lose their lunch, many viewers were concerned about the subtext of the ad – was it alluding to child pornography? It’s something that, perhaps, pre-launch market testing (and a healthy dose of common sense) would have uncovered before Microsoft turned off legions of customers.
Another fail was ALDI’s 2016 social media campaign ‘I became an ALDI lover when I tasted ____ for the first time’, which invited people to fill in the blanks. The campaign certainly engaged with consumers, but not for the right reasons. ALDI was besieged with lewd comments and ridicule on Twitter.
The failure of campaigns today can be swift and brutal. So how can brands continue to push boundaries without alienating the audience?
One brand consistently recognised for its advertising is drinks brand V Energy, which has been running a series of humorous how-to campaigns targeted at Millennials. The ‘V Skills’ campaign, created by TKT Sydney (part of the Clemenger Group), reinforces the brand’s commitment to helping people be ‘a bit better at life’. Themes include how to smoke bomb a party, avoiding alien abduction and folding a fitted sheet.
Craig Harkness, V Energy’s marketing manager, says a great deal of research goes into the group’s campaigns.
“The campaigns are part of an ongoing conversation with our consumers that involves a huge amount of different types of data – hard metrics with media, soft metrics tracking performance and small data from actual conversations with consumers in the form of qualitative research and social interaction.”
Yet despite V Energy’s use of data, Harkness says this is just part of the equation and he credits strong partnerships with the brand’s creative agencies, OMD and TKT Sydney, as key to the brand’s success.
“I’m a great believer in keeping it simple and can’t stand when unproven science gets used to try to distract you from the bad stuff. I think our job as marketing leaders is to sift through the bullshit and follow clear principles that are based on repeated, measurable effects,” he says.
Harkness says V Energy has balanced the art and the science of marketing by getting the basics right and not getting lost in “random tactical marketing”.
“Peter Field uses the example of ‘a long idea’ being the Holy Grail. We’ve built a long creative brand idea in V with ‘The Massive Hit That Improves You A Bit’. It’s an idea built off consumer and product insight that has functioned across all aspects of the business over the last four years.”
Another brand successfully fusing the art and science of marketing is wealth management player MLC, which has won a number of innovation awards for the wearable device program it launched last year.
New health insurance customers who sign up to wear the device can access personalised information on their health and fitness, including actionable trends and wellness scores, messaging and content.
Since launch, around 20% of new customers have signed up and a third have received a discount on their health insurance premiums as a result of data on their healthy habits. MLC is currently looking into expanding the program to its entire health insurance customer base.
Melissa Heyhoe, MLC’s chief customer officer, says that while a key goal of the program was to collect data and better understand risk, it was also providing a way to improve the customer experience.
“We are learning about people’s habits and behavioural patterns, but it is also giving us the opportunity to communicate with customers about their habits and goals and the importance of why they have a [health insurance] policy in place,” she says.
“We also have the opportunity to better understand risk and to ask different questions. Traditionally insurers have assisted people after they fall ill, but we are now able to help them before they get sick.”
What is clear from these successes is that neither art not science should take precedence in the modern marketing mix. Neither is past or future. To prosper in business today, brands need a balanced diet of tradition and technology, right brain and left.
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