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31 January 2013

Marketers: Magicians or equilibrists?

“The drift from art to science has eclipsed the magic that made marketing so marvelous…” …is typically the type of newsletter header that makes me click on the link and read through the entire article.  This one was published last October by Marc Mathieu (SVP Marketing at Unilever)[1].  His point is that we’ve tried so hard to make marketing predictable that we’ve lost the magic that makes it unique.  He calls on marketers to find the right balance between magic and logic to conjure exceptional experiences that build brand love time and time again.


Have we marketers lost the magic that allows us to impact emotionally-driven human behavior and decisions?  Have we really lost our balance?  I definitely think we have to find a new equilibrium.  But – in a world where only a minority of companies can reliably evaluate the effect of a campaign or the impact of a marketing budget cut -can we really say that we’re facing a so-called “drift from art to science”?  Isn’t the balance still tipped in the opposite direction for the overwhelming majority?

Let’s face it: “80% of CEOs do not really trust marketers”.  Ouch, that hurts!  But there’s worse: “90% of the same CEOs do trust and value the opinion and work of CFOs and CIOs.”  This is the gritty truth as highlighted by the 2012 Global Marketing Effectiveness Program[2]. So what’s wrong with us marketers?  According to this survey, we’re too disconnected from the financial realities of companies and have lost sight of what our real job is: to generate more customer demand for products/services in a business-quantifiable and business-measurable way.

In light of this last piece of information, my strong belief is that data and logic are the magician’s friend… and not his enemy.  And here’s why:

  • In a context of turbulence, CMOs need to defend their project in the board room and fight against cuts in their marketing budget.  And a rock-solid business case will always help.  Let’s show these board members that not only CFOs and CIOs can focus on the right set of data to take the best decisions and achieve the best outcomes possible. Certainly not an easy task, but keep in mind that companies emphasizing decision-making based on data and analytics outperformed peers by 5 to 6%[3].  

  • You don’t necessarily need to master SPSS and start speaking Matrix movie words like ‘crack the code’, ‘discover the pattern’ or ‘reveal correlations’.  Here again it’s about balance.  As a marketer, don’t be scared by Excel.  And as a CMO, make sure that you can call on these data mining competencies to support your team.  Not only will these people help you having better informed judgment, improving decisions and measuring results, but they will also help you bringing your results to the next level (just Google something like “predictive marketing” to get a flavor).

  • Magic can definitely help steering emotionally driven decisions.  And data as well.Think about your online Xmas shopping a couple of weeks ago.  How do you think Amazon suggested the one article that would make the perfect gift for your partner?  Some call it magic… but mostly it’s called data mining.

Of course no data mining effort or technology will ever support disruptive decisions, breakthrough or design award winning campaign on its own.  Marketers sometimes need to be magicians.  But most of the time, our job is that of an equilibrist, striving to find a balance between instinct and reason.  My point is that – so far – the balance is still in most cases tipped in favor of the first one.

[3] BrynjolfssonE., HittL.M., Kim H. H.; “Strength in Numbers: How Does Data-Driven Decisionmaking Affect Firm Performance?”, MIT Sloan School of Management (April 2011).