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Is Marketing the New Science?

What a change! It wasn’t long ago that product development and engineering were the scientific parts of the business. In this Dilbert-world, marketing was seen as an art, practiced by those whose expertise was garnering mind share in the murky waters of public opinion. But no more. Look at marketing job offers today and count the number of times words like “measure,” “metrics,” “track,” “performance reports,” “results,” “analytical expertise,” and “technical skills” appear. The following are job requirements taken from real marketing position job descriptions:

What a change! It wasn’t long ago that product development
and engineering were the scientific parts of the business. In this
Dilbert-world, marketing was seen as an art, practiced by those whose expertise
was garnering mind share in the murky waters of public opinion. But no more. Look at marketing job offers today and count the number of times words like
“measure,” “metrics,” “track,” “performance reports,” “results,” “analytical
expertise,” and “technical skills” appear. The following are job requirements taken from real marketing position job descriptions:

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• “Deliver and measure performance
of all sales tools, direct marketing, online campaigns & initiatives, and
advertising, to ensure that these vehicles are effective in driving new
business in a cost effective way”

• “Analyze segment characteristics
–needs, purchase behavior, buying criteria–and develop programs to penetrate
more deeply into those segments to increase revenue or loyalty.”

• Understand processes and infrastructure
used by the team and act as super-user to help team solve problems, and
identify efficiencies

• Allocate and monitor work across
team to ensure optimal capacity is achieved at all times

• Team with manager to develop
meaningful metrics to measure client campaign success

• Analysis of those metrics to
understand successes, setbacks, and opportunities and communicate the same to
management

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And my personal favorite:

• “Meticulous attention to data and
metrics; we measure everything at XXX.”

What’s going on? Since when has a marketing position required practical knowledge of multivariate regression, logistic regression, and t-testing? Here is what I think happened.

Companies got tired of doling out tons of cash for marketing activities that produced
mindshare, eyeballs, clicks, etc. but showed no clear path to revenue. At the same time, companies were tightening their belts and looking for ways to become efficient. Offshoring development work and customer support was one way, but too much money was going down the marketing rat hole to leave it untouched. Enter the online advertising platforms. In order to sell ads online, Google and Yahoo needed to provide companies with performance metrics. Google Analytics and Yahoo Analytics provided, for the first time, a way for most companies to catch a near real-time glimpse of their
business performance, at least in the online world. Savvy managers then took
advantage of two orthogonal trends; a consumer rush to Internet and the need to
streamline operations. The two couldn’t have come at a better time. With the first Internet slowdown in 2000, companies embraced any idea that could help them do more business with less resources. Creating and tracking campaigns in almost “real-time” seems like a business-smart way to run marketing. And it is. But ten years later, we need to ask ourselves, “Have we gone too far?”

At its core, marketing is both a science and an art. Sure, you can generate campaigns, measure results, and use the feedback to tweak operations … and you should. That’s the science. But, there’s much more to it than that. Marketers still need to talk to customers to understand market needs; and then define products and services to meet those needs, develop successful pricing schemes, position the offering in the market
place, and finally craft effective messaging.
Each one of these elements requires feedback and validation. And that is still an art.

Like many
management fads, the marketing pendulum has swung too far; this time in favor
of the science (it’s really engineering, not science anyway). Companies will
continue to generate campaigns and measure results, showing their boards how
savvy they have become, but that won’t necessarily make them successful.
Successful companies are looking for new, innovative ideas and are investing in
the hard work of all the four “P”s (product, pricing, positioning, and
promotion), not just promotion.

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I am not
squeamish about the math. My background is in Physics and Engineering, so I
actually embrace the rigor and process that was engrained during my studies and
early work career. But, it is because of that background that I realize the
limitations of these methods. Paradoxically,
most innovate scientific and engineering breakthroughs came from radical ideas
to difficult problems; not those that squeezed another few cents out of
manufacturing or distribution. Incremental progress can be made by these methodical
tactics, but game-changing ideas require a fresh look–and that will most
undoubtedly remain an art.

Which leads me
to another business trend that can create game-changing ideas–and that
is the use of interdisciplinary teams to search for innovative solutions. This is a wonderful concept that needs to be
explored further. But that is for another post …

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About the author

A technology strategist for an enterprise software company in the collaboration and social business space. I am particularly interested in studying how people, organizations, and technology interact, with a focus on why particular technologies are successfully adopted while others fail in their mission. In my 'spare' time, I am pursuing an advanced degree in STS (Science, Technology, and Society), focusing on how social collaboration tools impact our perceptions of being overloaded by information. I am an international scholar for the Society for the History of Technology.

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