Lester Wunderman, founder and chairman of Wunderman Cato Johnson
and direct guru, said at the annual Direct Marketing Association seminar
last week: ’If direct marketing is to continue to grow, we must learn to
build brands as well as sales. We must also learn to use our imagination
first and our computers second.’
Then this week, at the Marketing Society conference, George Bull,
chairman of Grand Metropolitan, said: ’The same information, processed
on the same software, produces the same outcome for everyone - dull
monotony and lack of competitive edge.’
Indeed, the Marketing Society has taken this as the theme for this
year’s conference, asking the question: ’Is marketing really art or
There’s little doubt that over the past decade marketers have made the
scientific process of gathering detailed data on their customers a
Not all knowledge is power
Wunderman said: ’Collect only data which can become information, which
in turn, can become knowledge. Only knowledge can build on success and
minimise failure. A company is no better than what it knows.’
This hunger for information has meant list brokers and consumer survey
companies have flourished and loyalty cards proliferated.
Retailers and manufacturers have embarked on a manic scramble for that
all important one-to-one communication with the customer at the expense,
some would say, of the creativity that traditionally went into building
the brand one is selling.
And it seems there’s a growing concern that this focus can ignore the
very things which motivate many marketing and advertising people to
enter the industry in the first place - creativity and inspiration.
’Marketing is essentially a creative activity,’ said Bull. ’It adds
value, produces national and individual wealth and provides jobs. PC
Plod is not just your local bobby, it is also the name for a nasty
affliction which can seriously impair your imagination.’
Helen Scott, partner at TMDP Marketing, describes the art/science debate
as ’marketing’s most difficult question’.
’How much of what we do in our working lives is precise calculation and
how much is sheer gut feel?’ she asks.
’And are we even aware when we switch from one mode to the other?’
But does it matter which mode the marketer employs as long as the
customer is being properly and efficiently addressed?
Gates to success
How, for example, can one explain Microsoft’s phenomenal success?
Computer buffs will argue that other software products are equally good
and yet Bill Gates’ software now runs on the vast majority of the
It could be sales and distribution, it could be continuous R&D but
arguably it has been launching the right products at the right time.
Bull concludes that as in most things, the virtue lies in the mean.
’Marketing can be art. It can be science. But it succeeds best when it
achieves a nice balance between both, and whenever the buying public
comes across an example of this combination, it rewards it handsomely.’