“I know that half of my advertising dollars are wasted … I just don’t know which half.”
My seventh-grade daughter had me help her review for a test last night.
What was interesting about the assignment though was the sense of recognition that I felt as I helped her review her study topic: The scientific method. It was closely related to a significant portion of what we do every day.
The classic expression of the scientific method is a cyclical process where you make observations that lead to questions. These inspire a hypothesis. You devise means to test this hypothesis, and you perform these tests. These can support your hypothesis, allowing you to share your conclusion with others who can also then test it; or if it fails, you revise your hypothesis and repeat. Here is a simple diagram from How Stuff Works:
The scientific method, it turns out, is an excellent basic framework for thinking about marketing.
I remember, as an art major in college, having a gray-haired science professor ask me if I was interested in a career in science. I thought he was out of his mind. He saw what I could not—that science is profoundly creative, and that it just has a more rigid system with a lot of requirements for measurability. I was just not thinking deeply enough to see how and where the two converge.
What is in the scientific method called observation, we in our process call discovery.
What is in the scientific method called observation, we in our process call discovery. We learn about an organization, its processes and its customers. We ask questions until we have enough information to develop our first working hypotheses. Once we have these, we test them with surveys, more questions, and on-the-ground observations. These research findings allow us to formulate our initial conclusions, and these form the basis of our proposed strategy. This is a version of the scientific method in action, and the marketing plan itself can be thought of as a series of carefully constructed follow-up experiments that help us determine the true validity and power of the strategic plan and its insights.
All marketing activity, in fact, can be thought of as tactical experiments. Once upon the 20th Century these experiments were very hard to measure for effectiveness—illustrated by the famous quote from John Wanamaker at the top of this post. It’s critically important to know which half is working. In the 21st Century, the pendulum has begun to swing in the other direction. The largest media company on the planet, Google, is a testament to this new modality—everything is measured.
Now, if your marketing experiments are performed in isolation—and not in the service of a strategy or a solid understanding of your audience—the silence may well be defining. There is no more hiding entirely behind a curtain of creativity. Creativity has become a handmaiden of data.
Marketing is the intelligent intersection of science and creative invention in the service of a strategic goal.
The danger here, of course, is to lose sight of the art in marketing. Marketing remains both a science and an art. It’s just that the art of marketing has to serve a stern master. Creative marketing experiments, if carried out in the service of a thought-out strategy, will have a higher likelihood of success. They also feed back into the system a great deal of information that can be used to improve nearly everything, from the specific tactical application to the strategy itself.
Reduce the guesswork. Make good use of all the information you have.
As marketers we must never be in a position where we are just throwing stuff up on the wall to see what sticks. We should be applying our creativity and artistry in execution of a strategic hypothesis that is based on research and genuine insight. Why? Because the core question will always remain: Is it effective? Is this activity—this money—getting us demonstrably closer to our stated goals?
Marketing cannot just be science, although there are those who might argue this. Marketing is the intelligent intersection of science and creative invention in the service of a strategic goal. This is an interesting place to be.
Image courtesy of William Harris via How Stuff Works