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Art and Science of Marketing

The ROI of Creative: Art & Science in Marketing

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Perhaps you’ve been in this dilemma before: you pour all your creative efforts into a new content piece.

Of course, you aren’t an idiot – you do it all right.

You’ve got a killer concept that aligns to your content strategy. You’ve got a catchy title and carefully curated imagery that synergizes with passionately crafted copy. Your content promotion plan is watertight. You’re even testing interactive elements on the landing page. Let’s do this thing!

Launch day comes and goes. The piece does all right — it drives some traffic, generates some leads, and makes a few people say “Cool piece!” — but in the end, it’s no better than the one your team threw together a month ago. That content you called art is now just another input to achieve the necessary output: REVENUE.

When your most inspired work seems to perform on par with standard content, it’s easy to conclude that you might as well stick to the ordinary, because there is no benefit in doing that little extra.

“We tried the creative approach,” you could say, “but it just didn’t work for us.” You could say that, but you’d be missing the big picture.

Creative brand stories may not always impact your short term results, but your long term success requires them. Data-driven marketing is a good thing—a necessary thing—but to truly connect with your audience on a human level, a balance must be struck between art and science. Without art, your brand’s marketing has no meaning. Without science, it has no direction. Let’s look at ways that we can balance art and science to ultimately be better marketers.

Demand Generation: The Modern Blend of Art & Science

As a demand generation pro, I’m torn between two worlds. Half of me is a “creative”, thinking up unique strategies and messages for the Ceros demand generation program. The other half is purely scientific, calculating cost effectiveness, assessing lead funnel metrics, and running experiments to find incremental improvements.

The truth is that the two sides are difficult to balance. Often times, my creative background says “let’s push the limits of what we can do.” I want to create something amazing, unprecedented, beautiful. And I want to do it in a unique, cutting-edge way, because that’s the innate yearning of creators.

Yet my data-driven (and paycheck-driven) self often compromises that sentiment. “We. Need. Leads…. Yesterday.” With that mindset, innovation falls prey to proven methods that yield shorter project timelines and more predictable results. After all, we’re seeking Aaron Ross’s holy grail of predictive revenue. Lead magnets are just one part of the equation.

That said, I do believe that the modern marketer can embrace their creative side without sacrificing results. Before we can understand how science and art can coexist in the demand generation ecosystem, we must understand the mindset of each approach.

The Artist

If you love “Mad Men” like I do, you most likely identify with the artistic side of marketing. An amalgamation of various advertising pioneers, Don Draper is successful as a wordsmith because he’s able to tap the emotion of his target audience in an unprecedented way.

Today, true artists are hard to find in marketing. But the most preeminent marketing creative of the dot-com era is arguably Seth Godin.

And as Godin points out, you can’t really bridge the gap between artist and scientist.

Some marketers are scientists. They test and measure. They do the math. They understand the impact of that spend in that market at that time with that message. They can understand the analytics and find the truth.

This sort of marketing works when it works, but it usually doesn’t. That’s because we’re dealing with humans, the wild card in the system.

The other marketers are artists. They inspire and challenge and connect. These marketers are starting from scratch, creating movements, telling jokes and surprising people. Scientists aren’t good at that.

Compelling, unique stories are the linchpin of Godin’s success. After all, he’s the industry evangelist for thinking different. So it makes sense that he identifies art in marketing as the way to connect with an audience. Clearly, it’s worked for him.

Godin goes on to say that you should pick one approach and go with it. I don’t know if I agree.

Why, you ask? Godin is an artist and and a brilliant marketer. In the age of big data, he’s an anomaly in that he seems unconcerned with analytics or typical “push” tactics like ads meant to increase site traffic and drive leads. In an ideal world, that approach would work for all of us. In reality, it doesn’t.

The Scientist

An oft-cited report from Accenture said that “marketing is so inextricably linked to technology that, by 2017, chief marketing officers are projected to spend more on information technology and analytics than chief information officers.”

The shift from the old style of art driven marketing has been usurped by the technology age. The advent of closed loop marketing has brought with it a reliance on data. In turn, creatives have been put on notice—drive results or GTFO.

From predictive analytics to revenue attribution and anywhere in between, marketers are smarter today than ever before. We’ve got a metric for everything. After all, “what gets measured, gets managed” (which is NOT to say what can’t get measured should not be managed).

As a result of closed loop attribution, we are able to understand the inputs needed to hit our sales targets. Marketing is no longer guesswork. The days of plastering your logo on a billboard and hoping for a jump in sales are gone.

For example, let’s say you’ve determined that one excellent campaign can generate 500 leads in a month. If you need 5,000 leads, then you should run 10 campaigns. There, done.

But scaling an “excellent campaign” tenfold is not easy. Inevitably, some compromise in quality occurs as you work to churn out landing pages, blog posts, and enough “Ultimate Guide to ___” eBooks to fill a hard drive.

Enter growth hacking.

To scale your 500-lead campaign, you need to make incremental improvements through experimentation (read: science!).

Done right, you have examples like AirBnB and Dropbox, companies who have achieved multibillion dollar valuations because of their product-centric approach to growth hacking. Yet what many marketers call “growth hacks” are just conversion rate gimmicks that inflate vanity metrics and make digital marketers feel good, but never impact the bottom line.

How Do We Balance Art and Science?

It’s been scientifically proven (by “real” scientists, not just marketers) that people are more likely to retain something when we have an emotional response to it.

So, let’s go back to my first example. Your “creative” piece may perform – on the surface – at the same level as a standard piece of content. Before you write them off as equal, here are four content marketing metrics you might consider:

  1. Social shares: What was the virality (or lack thereof) for each piece?
  2. Returning visitors: Did consuming the more creative piece drive more returning visitors?
  3. Funnel impact: How do leads who consume each piece perform down-funnel?
  4. Brand lift: How did your content shape your audience’s opinion?

The truth is, the ROI of being memorable is a difficult thing to quantify. However, this is also true: When you create an overwhelmingly positive impression at every touchpoint, your business stands a much better chance at success.

Today, smart marketers are creating memorable marketing by using science to inform art. For example, you can:

  • Use content performance metrics to inform future content creation.
  • Leverage marketing automation to serve content to users based on their past behavior.
  • Tailor content to your user’s interests via social listening.

Science can also enable art.

“Technology will never replace a great story, but can enhance it by allowing marketers to plan, curate and distribute more effectively,” says Rob Yoegel, VP of Marketing at Gaggle, in our recently published ebook on brand storytelling and technology.

Driven by science, technology provides the modern marketer with capabilities that were never before possible. By selecting the right content marketing tools, you can create inspiring content AND drive the results your business needs.

The Bottom Line

Data tells you who your audience is, what they want, and where they are. Creativity is how you reach them.

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