Are You a Marketing Artist?

Portrait of Michelangelo at 60 by Jacopino del Conte, after 1535

Portrait of Michelangelo at 60 by Jacopino del Conte, after 1535

“Marketing: Is it an art or a science?”

We’ve all heard this age-old question … no doubt wrestled with it in our own jobs, too. That being said, I’d like you to consider another question because I don’t think this is the right one. Or at least a very interesting one. What is? (Hint: See headline.) We need to move past the tired ‘art vs. science’ debate that tends to lead nowhere unless we frame marketing within some ultimate purpose.

So, let’s explore what people usually mean when they throw these terms around, and why we shouldn’t rush to judgment like marketing Supreme Court justices on the verge of vacation. But before we get into loftier territory, let’s start with the acknowledgment that numbers have a big place in today’s marketing. Big Data. Analytics. Metrics. Cost-per-whatever. Return-on-x. Value of a subscriber, lead, customer. Only a fool would ignore this industry and business reality. It’s the world we live in.

At the same time, marketing is fundamentally a creative discipline. Its goal may be to win customers and grow businesses (measurable outcomes, indeed), but its engine runs on the imagination. Despite the data-worship that today’s omnipotent and omnipresent information technology encourages, marketing at its heart will always be artistic, and therein lies the tension. The spark of creativity, the intuitive understanding of a buyer, the intangible connection with an audience, the cultivation of an emotion: These activities are the province of the right side of the brain. Put more bluntly, right-brained power is not rooted in math, and the brain’s hemispheres handle certain tasks separately for a reason. Regardless of how hard we try to quantify and systematically reproduce marketing in cold numerical precision, the creative parts will require, well, creativity. The right brain needs to do what the right brain does, and buyers are begging to be dazzled.

The innovative power of marketing comes not from numbers, but inspiration. This is where marketing starts. Don’t get me wrong: Figures and data have their places. They can help tell you whether your brilliant idea succeeded or failed, and to what extent. They can make sense of otherwise nonsensical phenomena. They can make your marketing more efficient and less costly. However, they are no substitute for the creative process and human connection, which are the true source and goal of marketing, respectively. Figures and data do not hit people on a gut level. As compelling as they may be, they alone usually do not move us.

The marketing artist
This conflict brings me to my big question:

“Are you a marketing artist?”

It’s worth asking because all creative types—all marketers, to some extent, actually—should recognize this person in themselves. To go one step further, I’d argue even the technologists and analysts need to connect to their inner Michelangelos in order to get anything useful from the numbers. Otherwise, they’re wasting time and potentially confusing the marketing staff with bad or worthless data. Then when this data is acted upon, buyers get the wrong input, adding insult (or at least annoyance) to injury.

On the other hand, the more informed the marketing artist can be, the better chance they will be able to give buyers the right topical content, i.e., things that genuinely interest them (in the right place, time, stage, device, etc.). An artist should never have her eyes closed to the world, and the world of numbers is no exception. In fact, to have a still bigger impact as a marketer, consider thinking creatively about the numbers. As in, don’t be afraid to recognize their limitations, imagine counter-intuitive interpretations, and use their vagaries to ask bigger questions about what your buyers respond to emotionally: What makes their day? What alleviates their pain? Why/How would they choose to engage with something/someone?

Go ahead, embrace your inner artist. Let me know how it feels.


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