Big Data Marketing: Art, Science, or Both?

Big data is all about science. Or is it? Where do the numbers and stats and algorithms end and creativity and personality begin? Has the field of marketing forever shifted away from its artistic roots and plunged permanently into the realm of pure, unadulterated scientific study and practice? As a marketer, which is more important: your ability to crunch numbers or your instincts about human nature? Here is the story of how science killed art, art reincarnated, and the two learned how to live together and get along.

How Science Killed the Artist

Marketers have always had access to data, but marketing was largely a creative endeavor until the age of computer-generated data. In recent years, the influx of big data into the mix has pushed art to the side, and almost completely out the door. It's all about the numbers: where are customers? What time do customers shop? Are they more likely to buy online or in a store? How many ads does it take to convert a shopper? How much does each customer spend in a month or a year? The entire marketing industry revolves around metrics. It's no longer about craft, it's about math and algorithms and machines.

Where Science Ends and Art Begins

Big data marketing Shhhh! Don't tell the accounting department, but there's more to this marketing thing than just ROI.

But science can only take marketing so far. Marketers now hold more customer profiles than they do actual customers, because society has shifted from one PC per household to multiple devices per user. It's not always possible to track Jane as she moves among her desktop at work to her laptop at home to her smartphone on the commuter train. In your database, Jane might be two or three people, and current science can't really reconcile her into a single individual with accuracy. But art can. When marketers learn to look beyond the metrics and become engaged and involved in their customers as people (aka, the creative part of marketing), Jane easily opens up and moves down the old marketing funnel.

Science and Art and Happily Ever After

How can you keep the value of science, while continuing to benefit from the artistic side of marketing? First, learn to make assumptions. Look beyond the data and take leaps of faith, guided by data but determined by creativity. ROI is important, but it isn't the whole game. What was the customer's experience while interacting with your brand? How engaged were they in your content or communications?

Never assume that you know exactly where a customer is within your marketing funnel, because Jane can move either backwards or forwards in the process without your knowledge simply by setting her laptop aside and grabbing her smartphone. Data scientists do and should have a say in the marketing department. Just make sure they don't duct tape the mouths of your creatives -- because when the two work together it's truly a beautiful thing.

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