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Left- Versus Right-Brain Marketing

  |  January 18, 2002   |  Comments

Marketers, programmers, and the IT department. Once strangers, they now have a common -- and uneasy -- bond.

What's the biggest challenge in executing interactive marketing strategies? There are plenty of contenders for the top slot: a lack of standards, a lack of buy-in and budgets, the hurdles inherent in any new medium -- the list goes on and on.

Looking at the big picture, the biggest obstacle marketers face daily in this medium may be that it puts left-brain and right-brain skills on equal footing, impelling people of both minds to collaborate. (Of course, the act of looking at the big picture betrays me as a member of the right-brain camp.)

Technology is no longer at the service of marketing; it defines marketing. This places marketers on an unprecedented learning curve, requiring them to become conversant (and then some) with skills and tasks for which they are temperamentally ill-suited. On the other side of the fence, the tech folks are dealing with coworkers who cannot express their needs in the language of the realm. Programmers don't want creative briefs, value propositions, or mission statements. They need minutely detailed specs.

What's the difference between right- and left-brained people? Here's a definition from Professor Ellen Freedman about how right- and left-brained people think differently: The left brain is considered analytic in approach while the right is described as holistic or global. A successive processor (left brain) prefers to learn in a step-by-step sequential format, beginning with details leading to a conceptual understanding of a skill. A simultaneous processor (right brain) prefers to learn beginning with the general concept and then going on to specifics. My colleague Chris Sherman looked at the issue as it relates to search engines, and wrote in an article: "Search engines are inherently left brain tools. Left brain thinking processes are analytical, logical, fact-based, quantitative."

Technology resides in the left side of the brain, the dominant cerebral hemisphere of most programmers and probably everyone in your IT department.

Marketers, however, tend to be right-brained. As Chris described it: "Right brain thinking processes tend to be visual, intuitive, holistic, and integrative. The right brain excels at processing large amounts of unconnected information and instantly distilling meaning from it."

That's why a right-brained approach isn't the best to use with search engines. Bear with me -- I'll tie this together. Search engine marketing happens to be a great place to start.

Let's say as a marketer, you're working to optimize your site on search engines. Chris points out how search engines function like the left side of the brain: "[They] take query words, analyze them, apply logic, seek documents that provide facts, and return thousands or millions of results." Wouldn't it be easy if all marketers had to learn was meta-tagging and perhaps a soupcon of HTML to make their sites rank high? But no, they have to know how to build a site from the ground up, technologically speaking, or it will be invisible as far as search engines are concerned. Build it in Flash? Not so fast...

How to promote the new site? Email marketing? OK. Text or HTML? How does it look on AOL? In the major email clients? As a marketer, is it your job to select external email tech vendors? As you race to take all this in, how long until you have to take a crash course in email marketing via SMS messaging? Will you need to learn the tech specifications of every handheld device and wireless provider out there?

In the old days, I'd develop a campaign for print or broadcast employing the art of marketing mixed with the science of research. Once the creative department got things right, they'd make arrangements for it to be taped, filmed, recorded, printed, or manufactured. The closest I ever got to the tech end of marketing -- up until a few years ago -- was signing off on invoices.

Last week, I worked on changes to this site (stay tuned!). I authored many revisions of a site spec, perhaps the most left-brained document in existence. The site spec takes literal interpretation to levels previously unheard of. The title of the spec is "ClickZ XX." The spec's Abstract (the only part I like -- it's the part with complete sentences) specifies the project as a ClickZ component. So why do the notes from the production team come back asking if this is a ClickZ project, and, if it is, could I express that in outline form (not omitting the URLs)?

We're lucky to have a head of production here who was once a journalist (and possesses the patience of a saint). Many companies aren't so lucky. Friction and cliquishness develop between opposing camps -- which shouldn't be opposing at all.

Marketing used to begin with marketing and end with technology. Now, it's a chicken-and-egg conundrum. It's anyone's guess where the technology ends and the marketing begins. I keep thinking the IT and the marketing departments should take off for a couple of days for a retreat/workshop-type thing. Everyone could emerge at the end bound by a fraternal sense of common understanding and shared mission. But that's really right-brain thinking, isn't it?


Rebecca Lieb

Rebecca was previously VP, U.S. operations of Econsultancy, an independent source of advice and insight on digital marketing and e-commerce. Earlier, she held executive marketing and communications positions at strategic e-services companies, including Siegel & Gale, and has worked in the same capacity for global entertainment and media companies, including Universal Television & Networks Group (formerly USA Networks International) and Bertelsmann's RTL Television. As a journalist, she's written on media for numerous publications, including "The New York Times" and "The Wall Street Journal." Rebecca spent five years as Variety's Berlin-based German/Eastern European bureau chief. Rebecca also taught at New York University's Center for Publishing, where she also served on the Electronic Publishing Advisory Group. Rebecca, author of "The Truth About Search Engine Optimization," was ClickZ's editor-in-chief for over seven years.

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