Are You a Marketing Artist or Scientist?

Image of Picasso's Guernica

Let’s face it, you already know the answer to that question.

Instinctively, you know whether you belong with the black-clad Bohemians sipping coffee and absinthe in the cool cafes, doodling in your moleskine and staring into space as you dream up your latest creation …

… or whether you’re more at home with the gadget-toting geeks, crunching numbers, running tests, comparing data sets and outputting conclusions robust enough to survive rigorous peer review. 

It’s not a conscious decision or something you can change — you know in your gut which tribe you belong to.

If you’re most comfortable writing a captivating blog post, interviewing a fascinating guest for your podcast, or storyboarding a cool video, chances are you’re a natural Marketing Artist

But if you’d rather optimize the keywords in the blog post, analyze the podcast’s subscriber growth rate, or split-test the conversion rate on the video landing page, you’re more of a Marketing Scientist.

There’s no right or wrong answer here — both paths can lead to success. 

The Marketing Artist’s way

If you choose this path you succeed as a marketer by making the most of your creative talent.

Whether you’re a writer, artist, illustrator, photographer, film-maker, musician, speaker, or other creative specialist, content marketing — one of the biggest trends in modern marketing — is your natural medium.

Here’s my definition of content marketing:

Media content that doesn’t look like marketing but functions as marketing.

Crucially, this kind of content has independent value — it should help people right out of the gate, whether or not they buy anything today. 

It needs to be original, compelling, entertaining, remarkable and/or useful enough for people to want to share it with their friends, comment and interact with the creator, and subscribe for more of the same.

And who’s the expert at creating this kind of original content? Umm, that would be you. 

Because creating media is what comes naturally to you, you have an unfair advantage at content marketing. You can write (or paint, or design, or talk, or play music) all day long, knowing there’s plenty more inspiration where that came from. 

And believe it nor not, companies across the globe are tearing their hair out right now, because they realise they need to start creating this kind of content, instead of bombarding people with the same old sales messages. 

That’s right: in the era of content marketing, your creative skills are in big demand. No wonder Brian calls 2013 the year of the online writer.

Your achilles heel

You love creating content — it’s so much fun, a part of you would happily do it for free. Which means you can get sucked into creating for its own sake, without stopping to measure whether it is actually getting you closer to your goals. 

Too much art, not enough science, and you could end up actually working for free. (Nothing wrong with that if it’s what you want to do. Just don’t kid yourself that it’s marketing.)

The rigorous science of marketing

As a Marketing Scientist, these are the tough questions you are hard-wired to ask — and equipped to answer: 

It’s all very well churning out blog posts and firing off emails and Tweets, but what’s the impact on the bottom line?

Are you targeting the right keywords?

How do you rank compared to the competition – and why?

What’s the clickthrough rate? The conversion rate? 

How well optimized is your sales funnel?

How’s the keyword density on important pages? 

What’s the ROI of your PPC campaigns? 

How about the time ‘invested’ in social media?  

Are your profits being eroded by inefficient systems?

You have the tools for collecting and analysing the answers to these questions. And the kind of brain that spots important patterns and extrapolates their implications for your business.

Once you’ve done the analysis, you know how to optimize your search presence, conversion rates, business model and processes, for maximum efficiency and profitability. 

You understand the pain of poor browser compatibility, and the pleasures of a well-executed eye-tracking study. 

You have the ability to take a popular website or piece of content and make it not only more popular, but profitable.

Your achilles heel: 

Logic and numbers will only take you so far, because business is fundamentally about helping people — and people are driven by emotions. 

To capture their attention, enchant them, educate them, build trust and authority, and get them to take action, you need to combine hard science with the ‘soft skills’ of an artist. 

Now, you need the best of both worlds to succeed

For a long time, it’s been possible to succeed by mastering either the fine Art or the pure Science of marketing. 

For every blogger who had such a passionate audience she didn’t need to bother with SEO, there was a PPC ninja who could get enough of the right keywords at the right price to make a tidy profit.

But the world is changing, and becoming more complex. Black-and-white distinctions are breaking down and competition is hotting up. 

Marketing Artists are discovering that their sizzling content is no longer guaranteed to bring them the same number of shares, subscribers, and sales as before. 

And a statistically significant percentage of Marketing Scientists is reaching the inescapable conclusion that they could exponentially increase the ROI of their PPC, SEO, and A/B testing — by integrating creative content into their marketing strategy.

Because the truth is, marketing is neither an art nor a science. It’s both.

And the present convergence of content, search and social means you can no longer rely on the emotional appeal of your art, or the logic of your data – if your business is to achieve its full potential, you need to combine the two disciplines.

If you’re a Marketing Artist you need to grasp a few fundamental principles of Marketing Science, such as keyword research and SEO copywriting, and what the data tell us about copy that converts

For example, as writer and poet, I’m firmly in the Artist camp. Blogging to attract links and shares? No problem. On-page optimization? For years, my answer was “Maybe later.” Then I started using feedback from Scribe to revise key pages on my sites, and was pleasantly surprised to see what a big difference a few small tweaks could make.

If you’re a Marketing Scientist you need to understand the principles of effective content creation – how to grab attention with a headline, hold it with a compelling story, educate people to the point where they become customers.

Like the PPC wizards who have stopped sending traffic straight to a sales page, and started sending them to an opt-in page for a valuable educational series, delivered via autoresponder, before making the offer — and seen their conversion rates soar.

If you can’t beat them, work together

Now, we’re not saying that a poet can reach the level of a professional SEO specialist, or that a data guy or gal will become the next Chuck Palahniuk Brian Clark. But that’s not necessary.

Simply by educating yourself in the basics of the complementary discipline, you can make big improvements on your current performance. And when you can ‘speak the language’ of the other tribe, you can collaborate with its members more effectively.

Copyblogger Media is a perfect example of a team of Marketing Artists and Scientists working together to build something bigger than they could do in isolation. (I’ll leave it up to you to decide who belongs on which side. :-) ) Maybe your team could benefit from a similar mix.

And if you need an extra little nudge to start talking to your opposite number, remember the growing importance of social signals in SEO. In the brave new world of search and social, Artists and Scientists are finding they can’t afford to sit at their desks and beaver away in solitude. 

The rise of Google Plus as a content-sharing, rank-enhancing, author-crediting, network-building social backplane means the brightest and most forward-thinking Marketing Artists and Scientists are both converging on a shared social space — which, happily, also provides an ideal forum for them to learn from each other.

So … which camp are you in?

Are you a Marketing Artist or Scientist?

What are the strengths and weaknesses of your preferred style?

What are your plans for balancing your style with the opposite approach?

Let us know in the comments …

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Reader Comments (71)

  1. says

    I’m an artist, but I follow more of the scientist crowd. A weakness of bing an artist is that it does not resonate with the traditional blogging model as well. I already have become more “scientist-like” in order to reach more of those that I follow. I force myself to learn new technology and understand new technical tools, but if it were a perfect world, I’d just write poetry and prose and watch the millions flock to my site to read it.

    • says

      if it were a perfect world, I’d just write poetry and prose and watch the millions flock to my site to read it.

      I know how you feel. :-)

      A weakness of bing an artist is that it does not resonate with the traditional blogging model as well.

      Could you say a bit more about what you mean by that? I’ve always thought blogging (in whatever medium) was perfect for artists.

  2. says

    I tend to fall more in the Artist camp than the Scientist camp, but I’m definitely trying to incorporate scientific marketing methods (things like A/B split testing and heatmaps) to my madness. It doesn’t always come naturally, which is why I’m so glad there are great resources online that break things down into simple terms.

    Thanks for the perspective check!

  3. says

    Oh my goodness this makes so much sense! It’s one of those things that I think a lot of people feel, but don’t know how to describe adequately. It’s great to be able to see yourself (as an author/freelance writer the artist for sure) and then understand why you have trouble relating to the other side sometimes.

    Also, both sides often are very insistent that their way is the right way. Though there are a few who blend as you suggest, (like the Third tribe) I’d say more experts/teachers/trainers in this field are polarized. Being able to view choices through this lens and to understand where we can or should fill in the gap is going to reduce the stress of marketing for a lot of people I think.

    Well done, and thank you.

  4. Elwin Sterrenburg says

    I guess that I am more of a Marketing Scientist, Mark. So what kind of sources (other than Copyblogger ofcourse) would you recommend to cultivate my Artist? Any suggestions?

  5. says

    Thanks Mark for a great post and also for finally standing up and explaining to the pure creative marketeers that they can no longer hide from numbers.
    I’ve always been a balanced (schizophrenic?!) marketer myself and am so happy with this new world of art and science, images and numbers.
    Oh happy days!

    • says

      Thanks for your perspective Denyse! I’m a fledgling online marketer but I am right there with you! When I read the descriptions at the beginning of Mark’s post, I thought, “Oh dear, I think I’m both!” Glad to hear I’m not the only schizophrenic out there!

  6. Elizabeth Barber says

    I love this article. I belong to a tribe in the middle that focuses on the consistent planning, production and posting. The artists need to be held to a deadline for producing the content and the scientists need to be held to a deadline for posting. Both of these groups can have trouble shipping, there is always ONE MORE thing they want to do.

  7. says

    I am definitely more of a Marketing scientist and I find that a strong point since I am so business minded. But when writing up content it’s an issue because I will always have a brain block. I need to bring the creative side I had back when I was a kid!!

  8. says

    I can see how an marketing artist expanding into marketing science or vice versa will help round out your skill-set and could be very helpful for a freelancer or agency marketer, but as a centrist-who-leans-towards-marketing-science, I’ve found that most corporate positions above a certain level of seniority would prefer specialization in an area of expertise. Each division has a “data guy”, a “email marketing guy”, a “content guy”, the “blog master”, etc. But being able to straddle both sides of the science/artist fence can be perceived as being a jack of all trades master of none. There’s a niche out there for marketers who can step up and fill whatever function the organization needs, but so far (to me) it seems more startup/small company oriented.

    I’d also add that analysis paralysis is an Achilles heel for a marketing scientist. They should be aware of over-iterating on diminishing returns, losing the agility to shift as business needs/management strategy changes course.

    • says

      Agreed that within a team, the best way to get the right balance is usually to have specialists on both sides of the fence. But they still need to communicate – which means learning enough about other disciplines to be able to ‘speak their language’.

      This isn’t the same as being a Jack of all trades – it’s about having deep knowledge of your own specialism and enough lateral knowledge of other disciplines to collaborate effectively.

    • says

      Good point. There’s nothing worse than an internet marketer who claims to do it all. For instance, I’ve yet to meet a designer who actually gets SEO, yet I can’t count how many I’ve encountered who swear they’re SEO artists.

      I agree that smaller companies need someone who is capable of performing a variety of functions. That’s why I love my job. I get to switch gears all the time, so I never get bored.

  9. says

    Insightful post, thanks. Not sure if I fall entirely in one category but on the other had I never really analyzed marketers (myself included) that way. Hopefully when I do, it will be a balance :)

  10. says

    This is a fascinating topic and very interesting. I’m fairly sure I’m an artist (writer) at heart. However, I am fascinated with studying the scientific elements. It is possible to become a “surface expert” by trying to know a little about all things. Focusing on something that is your specialty is a glorious thing. However, gaining an understanding of how the other moving parts impact your work and contribute to the final product will make your work better. This is so interesting. Thanks for writing it.

    • says

      Re ‘surface expert’, I like David Armano’s idea of the ‘T-shaped creative’ – someone with deep knowledge of their specialism (the downstroke of the T) plus shallow knowledge of intersecting disciplines (the horizontal stroke).

  11. Katrina Starkweather says

    I am a Marketing Scientist. Thank you, thank you, thank you for giving me a label to use. And, thank you, thank you, thank you for making it OK to be an analyst in the marketing field! Now in the business for 20 years, I’ve learned to develop the creative within, but it’s not as natural as the scientist in me who asks, “How does this impact the bottom line?” The challenge, for me, is finding a client or a company to work for that values my skill set and understands that marketing folk today are both creative AND analytical.

  12. says

    I don’t really fit into either category. I write and do some design/photography. That’s what I enjoy the most. But I’m not afraid to crunch numbers or delve into analytics to improve my CTRs. As you said, everyone in the industry needs a bit of both to succeed.

    On a side note, I think I’d rather be around people in the sciencetist category. “Artsy” people usually make me throw up a little bit.

  13. Andy C says

    As with my prior professional career as a Business Analyst and QA Tester, I believe I’m a bridge between the two main areas, comfortable in each but not at the pinnacle of either. Neither the true artist nor the total geek, I’m very strong with analytics and presenting findings in a manner that will make sense to different audiences, be it numerically based or a story.

  14. says

    I’m definitely more scientist. I could spend all day adding heat maps to websites, tweaking my SEO tools, and studying my Google analytics traffic. But without doing the hard work, there’s nothing to analyze.

    • says

      The funny thing is, this sounds like hard work to me. :-)

      “adding heat maps to websites, tweaking my SEO tools, and studying my Google analytics traffic.”

  15. says

    I would like to think I’m more an artist, but my highly mathematical and analytic sensibilities get the better of me. I think that’s why sometimes my writing can get a bit dry with the first few drafts, and why I need to inject some pizazz with every subsequent one. Maybe I’m one of those hybrid people who can contribute to both sides.

  16. says

    This has really made me a bit confused.

    During the day I’m a research scientist and I do all the geeky stuff with my molecules and work out the most cost effective way to turn a profit for the big pharma company.

    Then at night I become a blogger who just writes about the stuff that comes into my mind and really don’t understand all that SEO stuff and get a sore head even trying to work out the best keywords for my site would be.

    I much prefer tweaking parts of websites and even do massively complicated gigs of fiverr where customers are just amazed at what I do as they have gone there in hope as the cost of full time freelance experts made them cry.

    Anyway enough rambling, just wanted to let you know that I’m obviously a little bit weird and fit in the middle in my own little unique box.


  17. says

    Anyone out there a marketing artist at heart who has been trapped in the scientist world for way too long?
    That would be me, too!

    In the past decade it was much more profitable to be a scientist. First there was Google Adwords which gave us ways to make money fast by optimizing ad campaigns. . . then there came PPV and CPA- same deal: the analysts made the most money. And we cannot forget SEO- a goldmine for those of us who spent the time to master it.

    But, in the past few years, Adwords became cost prohibitive and PPV/CPA too cuthroat. And, we all know what has happened with SEO- with Google banning thousands of legitimate small business sites in the interest of getting rid of the junk.

    I see the future is in being a marketing artist because putting out epic content that moves, inspires, helps and transforms people is yours and yours alone – cannot be taken away. For me, it is bringing out my true calling and I am happy to have arrived and am enjoying the journey as a marketing artist!

    Amy McDaniel

    • says

      “I see the future is in being a marketing artist because putting out epic content that moves, inspires, helps and transforms people is yours and yours alone – cannot be taken away.”

      I like the look of that future. I don’t think the science is going away though, just not enough to get by on numbers alone these days.

  18. says

    Definitely more the scientist for me. I worked in the direct mail sector for a couple years and this is where most of the marketing scientists reside. A passion for the numbers, lists and analytics – It was always had a higher priority than the look, branding or content elements of a campaign. But having a creative side I see is important too.

  19. says

    Definitely an Artist but of late, it seems that my style is getting cramped due to the lingering thought, “I need to make a point, market myself, drive people… somewhere!” Sigh. So now I am neither a free-spirited artist (since I am plagued by the idea of numbers) nor a scientist (because that isn’t where my inclination lies).

    • says

      Maybe set aside some ‘experimental writing time’ where you just play around with words and ideas, with no thought of using it to ‘make a point’ etc… and see what comes out of it?

  20. says

    Artist. I look at Google Analytics for more than 5 minutes and my eyes just glaze over. Keyword strategy, shmategy. I use Scribe, but it hasn’t really clicked with me. Am I doomed?

    • says

      You don’t sound doomed to me, just in search of the human implications of the numbers.

      The point where it started to click for me was when Brian made the point that keyword research and SEO copywriting are essentially about writing for people, not machines:

      Last time I checked, it’s people who use search engines, not some other life form. So you’re always writing for people.

  21. says

    I believe that I lie somewhere in the middle. Dabbling with both, but master of none. I like writing but I am quite concerned with SEO although my primary aim is to write for people and I honestly strive to do that. Because I think of my self as somewhat technically challenged (I know I should stop that and adopt a more positive attitude), I stay away from the very important aspects of internet marketing such as optimizing conversions, split testing, the very essences of success. I think I have some rethinking to do.

  22. says

    How could I NOT like this post. In fact the similarities with a post I recently wrote are downright uncanny: . Not so long ago I realised that I had to make a business decision around whether I was going to persist in an old (and somewhat arrogant) habit of declaring myself to be an artist first and a copywriter second. As though art were my ‘wife’ and copywriting my ‘mistress’. Business instincts, combined with a genuine sense of responsibility to my clients, determined me to marry my mistress and engage with my wife as a clandestine, after-hours love affair. My clients feed me, and the very least I can do is to strive to ensure that they get the best possible results out of me. Yeah, sure, between you and me, I secretly hold as a tenet of my personal faith that “heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” But for as long as I need to eat, feed my family and pay the mortgage, I also submit to the yolk of “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s”

    • says

      That’s a nice post. I try not to worry too much about labels like ‘artist’, ‘copywriter’ or even ‘writer’. Writing is a verb, and it’s hard enough to simply do it, without thinking up a job title as well. :-)

  23. says

    This makes so much sense! I’m definitely a scientist… I love Google Analytics, Webmaster Tools and all things SEO. I get excited about the stats and making stuff work. I do write and even have my own blog but it doesn’t come nearly so naturally.

  24. says

    It will be great to be a good blend of marketing scientist and artist to achieve success. As important as to be a good blend of the two, it is worth coining a name for a well blended marketing artist scientist to read- (Marketing Art-scientist)

  25. says

    I’m definitely more “artist” though in the non-writing world, I have “scientific” characteristics. I love to analyze. However, I suffer from information overload on the best ways to be scientific with my marketing. You’re post was very helpful in providing some focus. Thank you!

  26. says

    Great post, its fabulous to read the insight and everyone else’s responses, I always found that i never “fit” in the pidgeon holes everyone tried to put me in, designer/artist/marketing/technical its just but this has been a wonderful post to hear that there are others in the same boat and it can be defined to a certain extent. Now where do i find that work that appreciates all of the above?

  27. says

    With a scientific background but an increasingly artistic sensibility, I like to think I’m both. Reading your post, however, I found myself nodding in agreement with the ‘Marketing Artist’ description. Regardless, I think you’re spot-on with your assessment – it is all about balance (and, to an extent, always has been). To suggest otherwise probably betrays the very bias you describe. Thanks for an intriguing post.

  28. says

    I nurtured my “science” side all through grade school and college – analytics were valued at home and the industry at the time. My initial jobs of project management and technical marketing were a logical extension. I’ve since learned that I don’t suck at being artistic, and it started with personal blogging. I found my voice and style which is an important element to being creative; and I learned to connect with feelings and the humor and pain of life, which takes grocking a persona to a more interesting level. While I understand the technology platforms, devices, formulas and metrics, I’m looking to camp with the marketing artists. Artistic thoughts are unique to the artist and you can learn something from everyone.

    Thanks for the article and discussion!

  29. says

    Wow, I feel like I’m a bit of both. And yet still have so much work to do in both camps. I can’t even say which I prefer being. I can see the strengths of both. This has given me quite alot to think about. Thanks, Mark!

  30. says

    Great post Mark, and to be honest I would have to say that I’m both, or at least I’m a Marketing scientist by trade, but fully understand the growing need to turn that marketing into an art; and this is where I feel you’ve hit the nail on the head. For me, some of the best content out there is derived from unique data and empirical evidence, however, it’s just so boring to sift through. This is where a Marketing artist, or having the skills of a Marketing artist will prove most valuable – in bringing that content to life. Thanks for the post, great read.

  31. says

    Hi Mark, enjoyed your post.

    Really resonated with me, especially have come across this post two weeks ago: I identified with the “Integrated Specialist” description – “While her or her career may have started in one of the places listed above, this social media specialist has spent a lot of time working across each of the disciplines to be able to provide the most complete advice possible.”

    But somehow something was missing for me … I didn’t get a sense of artistry or passion. Now, your article, and it all comes together! I’m definitely more of a marketing-communications strategist, but also *love* finding the answers to technical how-to questions (SEO, WordPress, new technologies, etc) . And I was never great at math. I think it’s because I see the artistry in the “tech” side as another form of creative expression.

  32. says

    Loved this article and the details you discussed. I of course am a big fan of Cubist art as well, so you had me right away. The most important comment you made to me was: “Because the truth is, marketing is neither an art nor a science. It’s both”

    So, the question should not be are you a marketing artist or scientist, but are you an creative scientist? Those of us who are both inspired by creativity and passionate about metrics DO exist, and it is a wonderful space to occupy. We are not as rare as you think, but you will find us in marketing strategy, as BIG data analysts, as direct and multi channel marketers, and as Chief Strategists in agencies. Here’s to all of us Creative Scientists out there.


  33. says

    It was a very great and informative article. Got to know about both sides of marketing.
    Though I am just a partial Marketing Scientist. Engineers like me would love to know it in detail.
    The Marketing Artist is what me and my team will focus now. Creativity is very much important in marketing as you mentioned.
    Hey Mark, will be in touch with you on Twitter! Cheers! :-)

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