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Marketing: Is it a Science or an Art?

Dr. S. Shyam Prasad
Students of management are often told that marketing is both a science as well as an art. However, in view of ever evolving practices and methods in marketing it makes an interesting topic to investigate once more. Without going into traditional and class room justification of the statement, I have discussed it from point of view of a “modern marketer”. Nevertheless, some basic views of marketing which couldn’t be avoided have found a place in the article.
Science and Art
In more than two decades of selling and a decade of teaching marketing, I have often come across the question as to what is marketing. Is it a science or an Art?  Before proceeding further, let us clarify as to what a science is and what an art is. The definition of each of this itself is debatable. Without entering into any controversy the simplest definitions are discussed below.
The word science comes from the Latin “scientia,” meaning knowledge. According to Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, the definition of science is “knowledge attained through study or practice,” or “knowledge covering general truths of the operation of general laws, esp. as obtained and tested through scientific method [and] concerned with the physical world.”  The Science Council’s definition of science is “Science is the pursuit and application of knowledge and understanding of the natural and social world following a systematic methodology based on evidence.” (Science Council)
The definition of art is controversial in contemporary philosophy. Whether art can be defined has also been a matter of controversy. The philosophical usefulness of a definition of art has also been debated. (Adajian, 2012). There are several ways one could go about defining art. It is a diverse range of human activities and the products of those activities. The nature of art, and related concepts such as creativity and interpretation, are explored in a branch of philosophy known as aesthetics (Kennic & Kennick, 1979). For our purpose the following explanation (Farlex, 2014) of art will suffice.
a. Skill that is attained by study, practice or observation; eg. the art of the baker; the blacksmith’s art
b. Skill arising from the exercise of intuitive faculties: eg. “Self-criticism is an art not many are qualified to practice” (Joyce Carol Oates)

Marketing as a Science
In fact, marketing consists of understanding your organisation, the environment and the different segments in the market and combining these understandings to design a product, positioning it in the most profitable segment and doing all those things necessary to establish that positioning to  result in an exchange which is mutually beneficial to both the organisation and the customer.  Philip Kotler says, “Marketing is the science and art of exploring, creating, and delivering value to satisfy the needs of a target market at a profit” (Kotler, 2001-2012).  For marketing to be successful it needs to subtly blend both science and art. But what are the science and art parts of marketing? Much has been written on this subject. Yet in view of fast developing technology, different views are emerging to keep the topic live.
In the last few years, there have been profound changes in the way how the marketers do their jobs. With the advent of newer technology, marketing, earlier characterized by predomination of advertising, is today driven by digital channels, social media and measured more precisely by modern technologies. The “modern marketer” is overwhelmed with data.  At least apparently, the science side of marketing is evolving.
The above chart appeared in a recent report by BtoB Magazine ‘Defining the Modern Marketer: From Ideal to Real’  (Oracle, Eloqua, 2013). In January 2013, BtoB surveyed 556 b-to-b marketing professionals from companies of varied sizes and industries. The report throws fresh light on the current perceptions about marketing.
The tall blue and red peaks in the middle which draws our attention show that the greatest majority of professionals think that marketing is an equal blend of science and art.The blue line represents branding and messaging, the red line represents campaign creation/deployment and the green line represents marketing measurement. The same professionals who assessed that branding, messaging, campaign creation are a balanced mix of science and art, are markedly right-skewed towards science on the measurement and reporting aspect of marketing.
Elsewhere in the report it is said, “The needs of the modern marketer increasingly are informed by analytics, targeting and Big Data, driving marketers to believe they must become more of a scientist than everbefore… Marketers are strongly of the opinion that science rules metrics, with the intuitive marketing qualities playing little part.” This seems to be right.  Analytics are often used in designing marketing campaigns. Marketers often use A/B testing to decide on the contents to be more appealing to the customers. Then a recommendation is sent to the designers and writers who then use creativity to come out with a better version of campaign. The left brain is analytical and the right is creative.  The modern marketers use the big data and metrics in order to be creative. That is the reason probably why the professional where equivocal on the nature of marketing.
In the Eloqua report mentioned earlier, it said that if one is to become truly modern marketer then one has to master the following:
§  Marketing technology—Workflow and marketing automation integrated with CRM, and including social monitoring and business intelligence.
§  Analytics—Leveraging Big Data, understanding return on marketing investment, measuring marketing’s contribution to revenue.
§  Conversion—Devising a prospect-to-customer strategy, along with collaboration with sales to deliver high-quality leads.
§  E
—Delivering the right content via the right medium at the right time, using an appropriate mix of activities such as PR, website, social media/blogging, events and demand gen.
§  Targeting—Knowing who’s involved in the buying process, with their roles and responsibilities clearly identified, and using dynamic profiling to properly align targeting with changing market and business needs.
Further, writing in, Scott Brinker (Brinker, 2013) has listed 4 principles of good marketing science and they are:
1.      Marketing as a science is about objectively using data to support decision making.
2.      Marketing as a science is about looking for patterns in the market and in customer behaviors — within data
3.      Marketing as a science is about embracing ideas from other scientific and engineering disciplines: psychology, economics, computer science, neuroscience, biology, industrial engineering, anthropology, sociology, etc.
4.      Marketing as a science is really about running good controlled experiments to test hypotheses.
Marketing as an Art
Dealing with big data and using sophisticated mathematical equations does not justify marketing as a science. Just dealing with numbers is book keeping. How the information is managed is the art. Take the case of an analytical team in StarcomMediaVest’s office – a leading media agency with plenty of creative work. The name of the team gives away the type of people who would be its members. It is quite natural to expect a few mathematicians or a statistician but certainly not a quantum physicist in the team.  Ms. Shezane Hasware, the scientist in the team, brings a dash of nuclear science to media. She says, “The half life theory explains how a nucleus keeps eroding itself to half but never becomes zero. You can apply that to TV GRPs. The impact of an ad on a consumers’ mind keeps diminishing but it never completely goes away. You need to take that into account while devising a plan.” (Bhatt, 2014) It is indeed an art to employ a scientist in an artistic team.
Marketing is understanding and managing human beings. We are all aware of the complexity of human behavior and it is impossible even with the super computers to predict the customers. If we were to derive a set of algorithms to predict the human behaviour, then there is no need of marketing! It isn’t that simple. The argument here is however not to say that algorithms in marketing is not useful; it is in a limited way. Its scope may be limited to specific situations such as targeting or retargeting of advertisements etc.
Certainly finding out what the customers need is a science and creating an offer to satisfy the need is an art. Pricing the product is more of a science and positioning it is an art. Communication is science and advertising the offering is an art. Distributing the offering is a science and selling is an art. Marketing is certainly more of an art than science with a caveat that the artist needs to comfortable with handling data and computer savvy. But there is a paradox – a purely right brained person however would be less successful than a purely left brained person.  The logic behind this is that creativity
is for pure unadulterated joy.
There seems to be an overwhelming evidence of marketing being a more of science than being an art. The first two principles by Scott are all about handling data. All the marketing and the meta marketing people such as vendors, analysts, consultants, pundits, bloggers, etc., are talking about data, big data, analytics, web analytics and big data analytics. They are all falling all over themselves to squeeze these terms into their content marketing. There exists data everywhere or data is mined where there is none presently. The information era is slowly turning into data era. The expectation that big data would translate into profit, leave alone big profit is an enormous error. Data by itself would achieve nothing. Some discerning brain has to ponder over it to uncover some precious information useful to the organization. Creativity is needed to breathe life into the data. I would conclude by saying that creativity is like life and science is like a body to marketing.
Adajian, T. (2012). The Definition of Art. In E. N. Zalta, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2012 Edition).
Bhatt, S. (2014, June 18). Why advertising needs rocket scientists. The Economic Times , p. Brand Equity.
Brinker, S. (2013, March 5). Cheif Marketing Technologist Blog. Retrieved June 27, 2014, from
Farlex. (2014). The Free Dictionary . – accesed on July 2, 2014.
Kennic, W., & Kennick, W. E. (1979). Art and Philosophy: Readings in Aesthetics. New York: Martin’s Press.
Kotler, P. (2001-2012). Kotler Marketing Group. Retrieved June 26, 2014, from KOTL Web site:
Oracle, Eloqua. (2013). BtoB. chicago: BtoB.
Science Council. (n.d.). Science Council. Retrieved July 01, 2014, from Science Council Web site:

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