The Art and Science of Marketing

Have you ever landed on a web site that is just as pretty as can be, but makes no sense, is hard to use, and just flat out doesn’t work? How about sites that appear to be so optimized (as if by a robot) such that every pixel on every screen has some higher purpose trying to convince you do to something (namely buy something), but somehow are so uninspiring that the most compelling button to click on is the Back button on your browser?

This is because consumer websites are built using a combination of “art” and “science” and sometimes the people behind them are 100% art and 0% science (pretty to look at, but missing cohesion), and sometimes it’s the other way around (effective but unappealing in its lack of soul).

On the Art side of the equation, this is where usability, appeal, creative design, and general aesthetic comes into play. Artistic marketing requires right-brain, creative thinking such that positioning and messaging and user-experience come together in a way that smacks the target audience on the head and says “you need this!” Often instincts and intuition contribute as much or more than data when developing marketing creative. Which can make non-creative types feel uneasy. Of course, when it’s done well, the messaging and user-experience is so clear and seamless, you barely know you’re being marketed to. The result is an intuitive user experience that is a joy to use, and delight to share.

When marketing programs are operated in an environment ruled 100% by art, the results can be devastating. Without discipline around performance and measurement, there’s no way to learn what’s working and what isn’t, no ability to test and learn, and worse of all, a disconnect from what the overall purpose of the marketing is in the first place – driving actual actions.

On the Science end of the marketing spectrum, you have lots of buzzwords and acronyms like SEM (search engine marketing), SEO (search engine optimization), A/B testing, LTV (lift-time value of a customer), CPM (cost per thousand), CPC (cost per click), CPA (cost per activity),conversion rates and lots of quantitative KPIs (key performance indicators) around customer acquisition, activation and retention activities. This sort of stuff is a data-junky’s fantasy.

The story line goes something like this. You determine that your customers are worth $37.00 to you over a 24 month time horizon. You know that of the new users who land on your welcome-version of your homepage, 14% of those become registered users. It follows, then, that you should back up the truck and spend every last dollar acquiring new customers any and every way possible for anything under 5 bucks per visitor. So, now you find a website with an attractive base of users that matches your target audience, and you can buy advertising for $7.50 CPM (cost per thousand impressions) with a 0.15% click rate or better, then you’re in business, right?

The risk here, is that before you know it, you’re optimizing for performance, sometimes at the expense of the overall experience. For example, think about the content that lands in your spam email inbox. Outrageous offers. Explicit and inappropriate content. Hoaxes. All of these are designed to get just one person in 10,000 to click. If your marketing gets to be 100% scientific, you risk finding yourself slipping toward techniques that may optimize short-term performance (using “sex” in a subject line of your newsletter) but erodes long-term loyalty of your customers.

Let’s just acknowledge that both individually can be effective, but more powerful still are when there’s a part art, part science approach that makes each discipline stronger than it could be on its own.

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1 Comment

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One response to “The Art and Science of Marketing

  1. Doug Gates

    In the design of an e-commerce site, it’s an interesting boundary between art and science. I’ve spent the last 10 years straddling this line.

    The Scientists can all come to quick agreement on optimizing response rates and sales metrics. The Artists, unfortunately, often disagree with each other and, moreover, *still* have to hear about a Scientist’s favorite shade of blue.

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