Marketing: art or science?

Does marketing success come down to science? Or is it art? I used to think you can succeed over the long haul just by being super methodical and process-driven.

I’m not talking about successful campaigns or projects – I’m talking about making it rain over years, as a company.

Most people say it’s both art and science…

I guess it is, but the real question is: what wins the day in competitive markets? When you’re the underdog facing Goliaths?

I argue that in tough markets, what wins is the “art” part. Yes, even in B2B, or sometimes: even more so in B2B than in consumer markets (!) – especially when compared to commodities.

The “science” bit in marketing is important too, but it’s table stakes. Like A/C in a car. It’s gotta be there – it’s trivial.

OK, so what falls under this “art” part?
Think the undefinable, the stuff that can’t be documented in SOPs, the tacit knowledge.

Here are two specifics.

1. Art in marketing is soft skills

How to do something (like GTM, ABM… a sport or cooking a meal – anything, really) is rarely the big question. 

There is so much knowledge shared freely or for some money. You can buy training, hire a consultant you’re done with the “knowledge part”. 

But for mastery and real results to kick in, you need consistency, you need the habits, and you need to keep going when everyone else would give up.

These are some of the soft skills needed to make real things happen.

2. Art is intuition

Intuition is having a gut feeling… or an unconventional idea, seemingly out of nowhere.

The funny thing is that ideas and heuristic insight don’t come from nowhere.

They come from a place called “having worked your butt off and done your homework consistently over a long time”.

It’s the unsexy side of creating and art. (And science too, btw.)

Successful artists, and authors know what it’s like to grind and put in the effort, revise and re-do on a consistent basis.

To sit one’s @ss down and write/paint/play chello/whatever for x hours. Day in, day out.

Most of what goes into art is not fun and doesn’t feel like art, doesn’t feel like creative work at all. Same with marketing.

But then all of a sudden, the big idea or opus emerges. 

You know, “overnight success”…

3. Art is culture

Company- and department culture has a tremendous impact on how growth departments function.

We’d run an ABM play in company A with hierarchical, top-down culture where people are stressed and tense…

We’d run the same play with the same steps, same market, same everything with company B with a more progressive and less toxic culture.

The outcomes, the learnings, the impact will be vastly different.

So yes, science and art go hand in hand. The former paves the way for the latter. You can’t have just art in marketing – you’d end up doing “interesting things” at best, that don’t work. 

On the other hand, teams who are obsessed with SOPs and quantifiable stuff at the expense of the art-components will only go so far.

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