Advertising & Promotion: Marketing: art or science? - Two senior and respected industry figures have challenged presumptions that knowledge plus science inevitably equals successful business practice Danny Rogers reports.

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.’

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

science?’



There’s little doubt that over the past decade marketers have made the

scientific process of gathering detailed data on their customers a

burning priority.



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

world’s PCs.



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.’



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