The modern CMO is a special breed that can perfectly balance the art and science of marketing, making it seem almost magical.

Marketing seems to be one of those subjects about which opinions are constantly divided. Even members of the marketing profession often articulate differing views – not about the value of the discipline, rather what it is based on. This long running industry debate focuses on whether marketing is an art or a science.

Here we consider the issues at play and explore the ins and outs of this complex conundrum.

The artists

In today’s social media dominated world, where spreading the word has taken on a whole new meaning, many marketers would argue that inbound marketing success relies upon a truly artistic approach to the craft.

With access to virtually limitless amounts of information, it’s easy for your particular message to get lost in the daily communication overload – unless it really stands out.

This is where marketing’s artistic charms can literally make or break a campaign. Skilled and experienced marketing professionals can use their understanding of the target audience combined with their innate creativity and intuition about what will work, to come up a heady mix of inbound marketing activities specifically related to the particular target group.

The challenge

As Sue Naegle, former President of HBO Entertainment once said,

“Marketing is designed to bring people into something.”

Bringing people in nowadays demands a wow factor. It is every marketers dream to hear the words, ‘it’s gone viral,’ (unless of course it was that email about the boss that they never meant to share), but to achieve this requires increasingly imaginative ways of connecting with and engaging audiences.

So if Ms Naegle is right, the artistic elements of empathy and creativity are essentially deal makers or breakers when it comes to developing an effective inbound marketing campaign.

However, is art enough? If the marketing artist doesn’t have an in-depth understanding of the market in which they are operating or detailed information about the customers they are trying to reach, then how will they come up with a means to communicate effectively? Sounds like a job for the scientists?

The scientists

Marketing professionals who consider themselves primarily scientists would argue that their work is the essential underpinning for any successful inbound marketing strategy.

The starting point for them is data – and lots of it. Gathering information about markets and customers is second nature for these guys, but interrogating it is where they really come into their own.

Running scenarios, testing out theories, quantifying impacts and evaluating outcomes may sound like phrases more suited to a chemistry laboratory, but these are the regular activities associated with a well developed marketing campaign.

Understanding the technical aspects of the increasingly diverse range of channels of communication including of course social media, is another area where the science based approach to marketing has really come into its own. Of course social media represents a significant opportunity to expand the reach of your message, but like any medium it needs someone managing it who understands the risks as well as the rewards.

Art and science – a match made in heaven?

So, the science based approach clearly has much to offer, but when we consider the benefits of it combined with the ‘art’ camp, this heady mix sounds like a corporate merger with much more potential.

I think it’s fair to say that there will always be those who take sides in this debate, and believe their viewpoint matters more.

This is definitely a marriage of highs and lows – think Liz Taylor and Richard Burton. But like Burton and Taylor, the reality is that these two disciplines need each other to create real marketing magic.