Data Guides, But the Gut Decides

Chief Marketers Seek to Balance Art and Science of Marketing

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"Science" was once a dirty word in the marketing world, an industry where creativity has always been paramount. But today, CMOs are embracing science because it fuels business growth in a concrete way.

The economic crash in 2008 was a catalyst for marketers to turn to science and data to prove their worth. This coincided with the availability of cheaper, deeper marketing technology and a customer-engagement revolution to be online, real time, direct and measurable. But with the influx of data, analytics, metrics and data scientists in the marketing mix, are CMOs walking away from creativity and bold thinking entirely? Do CMOs believe that science will kill the need for the art of marketing?

We wondered this as we entered into the fifth year of the CMO's Agenda, our qualitative research of the CMO role. But after in-depth interviews with more than 50 CMOs, we found that CMOs who have successfully evolved their role in the organization have done so not through data and analytics alone, but by blending the art and science of marketing.

How do CMOs define the art and science?

So how did these CMOs define the art and science? Well, it varied by organization, but there was some common ground. CMOs defined the art as the process of using intuition in decision-making -- asking the right questions to create winning strategies.

Fidelity Investments CMO Jim Speros put it this way: "Taking all your knowledge, drawing eclectically from lots of sources and putting it together in a unique and compelling way."

How about the science? Across the board, science was thought of as the process of using data to inform decisions -- using analytics to answer questions and optimize marketing efforts.

Target CMO Jeff Jones defined it this way, "The science is about accountability -- how we use data to inform our decisions and to measure what we have done so we can be on this cycle of continuous learning and improvement."

Science or art, data or intuition -- it is less about semantics and more about synergy. Science provides the foundation for informed decision-making, while art is an accelerant that brings the insight to life in a more impactful way.

Science enriches the art

As it turns out, science is not stifling the art. It's actually making it better. From customer insight to media mix modeling to product innovation, science is helping inform the art of marketing in new ways.

An example from the research that really stands out for us -- and not just because it's tax season -- was H&R Block's use of data to better segment its target customers. According to CMO Robert Turtledove, advanced customer segmentation was a game changer for H&R Block's growth strategy. The company had a robust segmentation in place, but it wasn't sufficiently actionable. So the company re-sliced the data and overlaid new information to create a segmentation that allowed marketing to prioritize customer segments and the operational tactics required to acquire and retain them. The result: a significant growth opportunity among millennials, a new target for the brand.

Art accelerates the science

Data is a commodity that can be had for a price, but art cannot be replicated. Science and art are important alone, but combined, they are the foundation and the accelerant for growth.

MasterCard Worldwide's Global CMO, Alfredo Gangotena, explains the intrinsic need for both. "A program based on a scientific foundation that is solid will work," he said. "But it will work even better if it's inspiring, creative and shakes up the customer mind."

CMOs explained that an art-orientation in decision-making is necessary when the decision involved a major move to get customers to see the brand in a new light or create an idea or trend.

"So much of our advertising is trend- and style-focused, we need to lead the guests. Guests can't tell us about things they haven't seen before. We need to use our knowledge of trends and judgment to lead here," Target's Mr. Jones explained.

What's your bent?

Across industries, company size and CMO backgrounds, when it comes to art and science, we heard loud and clear: Data guides, but the gut decides. Great companies have a true blend of art and science, but make no mistake: Striking that perfect balance is not easy. Most organizations fall more to one side or the other and often adhere to a blend based on the norms of their industry.

But it is not about a single recipe for success. It's about the growth opportunities that can be opened by rethinking your art-science mix. It could be a competitive differentiator to go against the typical blend of your category. A change in orientation could be the catalyst your organization needs to enter that next growth stage.

Rich Beatty is partner and co-founder of CMG Partners, a strategic marketing consultancy.
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