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Zoology is a kind of science that studies real animals. Cryptozoology is a kind of pseudoscience that studies made-up or nonexistent animals. The point? Making things seem legitimate by imitating science is nothing new. In marketing, where “luster optimization of waste material” (polishing turds) can be an art form, legitimizing decisions with what looks like science is only to be expected.

So, what is true marketing science and what is just “luster optimized” pseudoscience? As this distinction is an important one, let’s break it down using the scientific method for marketing.

The key to true marketing science is the same as the key to any other science: adhering to the scientific method. What does the scientific method look like applied to marketing? Here’s a brief breakdown.

Step 1. Observe: Understanding Marketing and Buying Environment

There are two lenses marketing scientists see through: the lens of the business and the lens of the buyer. Naturally, marketers look through the business lens as marketers. Observations here are intended to uncover what marketing has done, is doing, and can do in the future for the business. This covers campaigns, performance metrics, and marketing technology, to name a few line items. On the buyer side, observations center around needs, experiences, preferences, locations – this is the buyer’s natural environment.

The point is, marketers can never assume that their efforts are working or that they know what’s important to their buyers; they have to take a hard look at what’s actually going on.

Step 2. Question: Clarify, Contextualize, or Conceptualize Causes and Effects

Ultimately, most questions in the science of marketing roll up into some combination of “Why (or why not) is that working?” and “How can we do better?” Answering these questions makes the hard work of practicing marketing science valuable to the organization – better, more predictable marketing means better, more predictable returns (spelled: R-O-I). To get there, though, marketing science requires precise, well-defined questions that drill down into the drivers for the business and for buyers.

Step 3. Hypothesize: Define an Answer to Test

Traditionally, marketing has followed the rather unscientific approach of “do as much as possible and see what happens.” Case in point: “batch-and-blast” email campaigns, whereby marketers aggregate as many contacts as possible, message them fervently, and collect whatever leads come through.

Scientific marketing, however, not only has defined questions, it offers testable hypotheses concerning expected outcomes. A proper pairing of question and hypothesis might look like this:

Question: Do these integrated platforms exchange data reliably?

Hypothesis: If the data exchange between these two platforms is reliable, then any data set imported into one system should be replicated when exported from the other system.

The value of a hypothesis is that it provides you with a framework for testing and evaluating the results. If the hypothesis turns out to be correct, you can move on to the next problem. If not, you can start developing new hypotheses to figure out what’s going wrong.

Step 4. Test: See if the Answer Works in Controlled Yet Real Applications

While this step seems rather self-explanatory – find out if something works by trying it out – marketers often end up doing an imitation of science. A true, scientific test of a hypothesis takes place in a very well-defined, controlled manner. All potential variables – the tools used, the copy, color scheme, layout, time, etc. – are managed and accounted for within predefined parameters. This is important because a successful test in marketing or any other science does not mean that the predicted hypothesis is confirmed; a successful scientific test means simply that there is a recordable, untampered-with, unambiguous result. 

Step 5. Analyze the Data: Deconstruct Patterns and Derive Lessons

To reemphasized my point in Step 4, a successful test should produce a clear result. That result should consist of a simple, yes/no, pass/fail, true/false, more/less/equal determination. Essentially, the test answers the question, “What happens when…?” When you run a number of tests, they ultimately will give you a pile of data that may reveal patterns that help guide future marketing efforts.

For example, a simple test that marketers run all the time involves subject lines. The basic question is, “Does Subject Line A drive more opens than Subject Line B?” After repeated iterations, you will have enough data to analyze for the purpose of constructing new hypotheses along the lines of, “Dry, matter-of-fact subject lines outperform ‘funny’ ones.” Such hypotheses, in turn, become fodder for future questions and future tests.

Step 6. Report Findings: Sharing Knowledge and Putting Insight into Action

If marketing science were conducted in the forest, and no one was there to document it, would it really be science at all? Recording findings and reporting them to ensure action is vital to both scientific and marketing processes.

In this analyst’s opinion, too many pseudo-scientific marketing efforts have been observed, too many marketing questions have gone un-asked, too many campaigns have been launched without hypotheses for success, and too few conclusive results come out of the fray.

Granted, it can be hard to step out of the daily drudgeries of marketing to ensure adherence to the scientific method. For this reason, the appeal of a unicorn-like, cure-all marketing strategy or a Loch-Ness Monster-sized marketing solution can be hard to ignore.

If such a magical creature is out there, however, the scientific method will lead marketers there, not the frantic, frenzied efforts of the pseudoscientists. Moreover, when true marketing science is paired with the already well-established art of marketing, you get a truly balanced approach that appeals to buyers and delivers meaningful, repeatable business results.

For more on the Scientific Method for marketing, read Aberdeen’s free Knowledge Brief: Marketing Science 101: It’s All About Methodology.

Image Source (Creative Commons): Derek Hatfield.

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