Marketing….is it Art or Science?

Whenever I teach a marketing course I inevitably get in to the discussion about whether the marketing function is a form of art or a science. Art being defined as the classic creative expression of thoughts and ideas and science being defined as the classic fact/data driven pursuit of answers.

Lets tackle the questions of whether it’s an art form first. The basic building block of marketing strategy is ‘brand positioning’ which requires a clear understanding of the consumer, what their needs are and how to solve an unmet need with a strong value proposition. To develop this you need to understand consumer behaviour and have relatively proficient analytical skills. What about brand communication? How many great creative campaigns/ideas were generated by looking at data? Not many is my guess. Pricing strategy? Sure, that requires good analytical skills and lends itself to more of a scientific approach to getting the right answer given its impact on brand profitability. Product design? I have to give art the nod here…..relying solely on quantitative data to give you direction on which features to include in a new product is dangerous. Qualitative research is invaluable as well as good business judgement in this case.

What about an argument for marketing as a science? Sure, marketers use regression analysis to determine the relationship between product variables (i.e features and price). However, a heavy reliance on analysis or modelling might suggest the marketer is not considering the emotional or self-expressive dimensions of a brand and how it impacts purchase decisions. Efforts to model these dimensions in the past have proven to be problematic because there are so many influencing variables. A good marketer also needs to understand how their brand is performing in the market and be prepared to adapt their strategy to address new competitors or shifts in consumer trends. To do that you need good analytical skills and an ability to turn data in to information.

So where does this net out? Well, I don’t think a good marketer can be from either extreme……the pure creative types that have brilliant ideas but no concept of ROI or analysis are a risk to the business. At the other end, the data driven types will likely have a weakness when it comes to understanding consumer behaviour and rely to heavily on data and miss the insight that unlocks a brilliant strategy. Certain vertical markets like technology and pharma/healthcare likely skew to more science oriented marketers whereas CPG and service businesses attract the art oriented types. Regardless of the industry, having great analytical skills will help but having great creative ideas and a knack for knowing what the consumer wants will always get you promoted in a marketing role.

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