Marketing is a science, so let's treat it like one

Understanding creativity and people is at the heart of great marketing, but the brand owners that succeed are those who recognise that it is also a science, Ebiquity's chief executive argues.

Science is the systematic study of the world using observation, experimentation, and measurement. The scientific method involves formulating, testing, and modifying hypotheses, based on what the evidence reveals.

Marketing very definitely qualifies as a science, although there are those who don’t seem to believe it is one or don’t behave as if it is one.

In my mind, there are three reasons why marketing is not being treated like a science.

First, because it involves the creative arts – storytelling, beautiful images, moving films, and finely-wrought words.

Some believe art should somehow be given a pass and not be subject to scientific scrutiny.

In fact, extensive research shows that messaging and creative are the most important levers in driving efficient communications.

Second, because it’s about people, and there are those who don’t like to think of human motivation and behaviour being explicable and predictable.

A world without behavioural economics and econometrics is – for some – a softer, more romantic, more human world.

And third, the rise of digital advertising has propelled anyone with "digital" in their title to be lauded as a marketing guru.

Shiny new object syndrome and a fear of missing out have catapulted individuals with digital experience to senior roles.

This has happened despite the fact that their expertise is often narrowly focused and highly executional, mainly centred on advertising rather than digital transformation, and rarely either customer-centric or strategic.

Science demands knowledge, experience and, most of all, an approach that comes from training and leads to qualifications and accreditation.

Businesses don’t employ accountants or lawyers or engineers who haven’t trained as professionals.

We should demand the same level of rigour and professionalism from marketers.

What’s more, I find it a little alarming that even some senior marketers use the terms "marketing" and "advertising" interchangeably.

The fact that this happens rather too often points to a knowledge crisis in our profession.

We live in paradoxical times.

For while too many marketers don’t think and act as if marketing is a science, it has never been more possible for our discipline to be run as one.

The exponential increase in data, algorithms, and data processing power all mean it is now straightforward to run multiple, simultaneous tests and then back those that deliver real and tangible ROI. And empower creatives with genuine, data-driven insights.

There are good examples of brands that clearly do understand that marketing is a science.

Just look at the test-and-learn, evidence-based rigour in the marketing led by Bob Rupczynski at Kraft, who turned the CPG company into a truly data-driven marketer.

The same is true of both Sally Abbott at Weetabix and Clare Andrews at Mazda.

Science demands access to objective, independently-verifiable data. Some walled-garden platforms currently don’t provide access to data as open and transparent as it needs to be for objective assessment.

As a result, those who practice the science of marketing should reserve judgement about the claims made for and by these platforms for reasons of science – every bit as much as for reasons of transparency.

Increasingly, the brand owners that succeed are those who understand that marketing is a science and use this as a frame of reference when hiring and training.

Competitive advantage belongs to those who use models and algorithms to scrutinize transparent, independently-validated data – who constantly test and learn – to direct their decision-making.

Success in the future will belong to those who practice marketing as the science it truly is.

Michael Karg is group chief executive of Ebiquity

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