I had the opportunity a couple of weeks ago to attend a conference on the Art of Marketing, hosted in my home city by the San Diego AMA. Surely, it’s a sign of the times that the conference panel on the Art of Content Marketing would feature one of the media industry’s most innovative data scientists. Panelist Joseph Gordon is director of research for U-T San Diego, a top-25 media outlet with newspapers, television and digital properties in its media portfolio. He and other speakers in this interactive forum raised some provocative questions.
Is marketing an art or science — or both? How much art is involved (or should be!) in the emerging field of data science?
As we head into the holiday season, when U.S. retailers expect to generate as much as 40 percent of annual revenue in the final two months of the year (National Retail Federation), these are not idle questions. Many retailers live or die on sales generated in the final weeks of the year. In this era of cross-channel engagement with consumers, intermingling the art and science of marketing is at no other time more critical to driving revenue and margins.
For more insight into these questions, I turned to Jim Sterne and his recent paper, in which he defines a new and compelling role: the data artist. Jim is a luminary in the field of data science and analytics, the founding president and chairman of the Digital Analytics Association, author of eight books on using the Internet for marketing and producer of the eMetrics Summit. So when Jim talks about the data artist, he’s not just promoting a new buzzword, but defining a new set of capabilities of great significance to marketing teams and their CMOs.
We’re accustomed to hearing about data scientists. But data artists? Jim defines this new individual as having a unique combination of abilities, a person who “uses data streams and advanced analytics systems in the same way a regular artist uses oil and brushes, stone and chisels or wood and carving knifes,” with the objective of delivering fresh insights from data to help an organization meet its goals.
That’s certainly a colorful analogy, but what are the core skills of a data artist? According to Jim, he or she is someone with a “firm comprehension of hard science, a sound understanding of business goals and processes, a penchant for creativity, and a talent for communication — a very rare combination.” I wholeheartedly agree!
Said differently, being a data artist is about moving marketing beyond the standard reports and dashboards, which are so often regurgitated numbers barely providing a glimpse into the “current state of the system.” (See my ClickZ column last summer, Metrics That Matter: A New Framework to Reveal Truly Actionable Insights.)
It’s about gaining the benefit of true analytics without requiring a team of technologists, mathematicians and data analysts hanging over the marketer’s shoulder to interpret the numbers. Perhaps most importantly, it’s about finding the right balance between the art and science of marketing, combining creativity and the insights from marketing analytics tools to support business decisions.
There’s a lot of lip service given today to using data to drive more strategic and successful marketing campaigns and other activities. But it’s one thing to deliver “descriptive analytics” on the same tired data time and time again, and another to use the data for insights that actively drive more revenue and higher profitability. That’s why the distinction between data scientist and a data artist is so important. I can’t say it better than Jim. As he says in his paper:
“A data scientist is responsible for understanding and advancing the nature of data, its collection methods, and the algorithms for processing it …. A data artist is responsible for delivering fresh insights from data to help an organization meet its goals. This is the person who takes the output from decision-support systems and turns it into consumable theories, postulates and hypotheses that can be tested and applied to the business.”
Joseph Gordon of the U-T San Diego, for example, is clearly both a data scientist and data artist, having created an analytics program for the U-T San Diego news department that increased audience size 12 percent in the same year that a paywall was introduced, drove a 25 percent improvement in behind-the-paywall editorial content, and produced increased revenue on broadcast ads by as much as 33 percent with more accurate pricing.
The data artist provides a number of tangible benefits to the marketing team, including a mastery of the diverse tools available to capture and analyze the multichannel data produced today. He or she also can do more than manipulate data, but creatively use analytics to produce deep insight relevant to the business on an ongoing basis.
So to answer the questions I posed at the beginning of this column: Yes, marketing must be both an art and science in this data-driven world. To engage in marketing activities without looking at the data revealing what consumers seek is sheer folly. To fail to leverage data to predict likely outcomes adds to these missteps.
But Jim Sterne, the consummate data artist himself, makes an important distinction. Marketing teams need not just data science, but data artists with the knowledge and creativity to make sense of it all in the context of their businesses. It’s this contextual, business-savvy, and creatively data-driven approach that will convince consumers to engage with and purchase from your brand this holiday season — and well beyond, into the new year.