Friday, March 06, 2009

Left Brain Marketing and Right Brain Technology

Why did the roles have to switch?

Several years ago I presented to an assembly of marketing services executives on why marketing is difficult to support with the usual set of reporting tools. The title was: "Satisfying Left Brain Marketing with Right Brain Technology." I followed former Forrester analyst Eric Schmitt who had just written about the effect of media fragmentation, consumer trends, and the need for measurement in a paper entitled "Left Brain Marketing." Given the continued focus on accountability, ROI and results I thought I'd dust if off as a post.

First, let's recap how the brain works. This won't be too detailed - but for the curious see Marian Diamond's biology lecture at Berkeley or read the Brain Atlas: How each area of the brain relates to customer loyalty.

Here's a short list of attributes associated with each side of the brain.

Marketing is often associated with the right side and creativity while analysts are coming out of left field, literally. These perceptions have certainly changed, e.g. not every agency is like Mad Men, but it can still lead to some interesting Venus-Mars discussions. For example, consider the extreme conversation around developing a new customer segmentation scheme.

Marketer: "We need to find new customers."
Analyst: "What requirements do you have?"
Marketer: "I don't know, one that gets us into a new market."
Analyst: "What data to we need to use?"
Marketer: "That which tells me the answer I need."

Five years ago when I first presented this it got a lot of laughs as if hitting a nerve. There's been a lot of progress on closing the gap from both sides. Marketers are much more precise in their requests and analysts better understand ambiguous needs. But let's go back to the basics and why the chasm existed.

Marketing is not creative because it produces ads; it is creative because that's its job - find new markets, grow the business, and satisfy unmet needs. None of those tasks can be easily managed by a spreadsheet or a daily report. In fact, back in '98 CIO wrote about marketing's 'creative mandate' and it was that role that made marketing the last hold out for IT. Why?

Most departments manage to a plan that is only an incremental change from the status quo, e.g. production, operations and even sales. On the other hand marketing is told by the CEO "grow this business," "blow the doors off," "beat the competition," etc.

In short, marketing is paid to change history. They are looking for what they didn't know they needed to know.

Now let's look at the corporate or IT analyst responsible for producing information. The vast majority of management reports look at the business through the rear view mirror. Their sole purpose is to answer the question: Are we on plan to hit our numbers? If not, where are we off so we can take corrective action? Nearly everybody is on board with this approach because their job and compensation is aligned with those numbers. Ever try to stop producing those reports? You'll hear all kinds of reasons for keeping them alive. It turns out that report building is like capital investing: a lot of upfront costs that we hope to amortize over the lifespan of the project. This works great for the 'daily sales report' and other questions that stay the same. In fact, these reports are so stable you can draw an organization chart just by looking at them. Products, markets, and financial periods are easily transferred to job titles.

But marketing threw a monkey wrench into the whole notion of management reporting. Why? Because the half-life of a marketer's question is measured in hours if not minutes. The exploration of new ideas generates a lot of of questions. Some produce produce useful answers but most end up with 'oh, well it was an idea.' The traditional method of producing reports actually trained marketers to NOT ask questions because they couldn't get answers in either a timely or cost effective manner. This learned helplessness created the gap between marketing and technology.

What was needed was a way to drive the marginal cost of a new question to zero. If this could be achieved then marketing could ask all the questions it wanted and not have to wait 6 weeks and spend $1,500 to get a report that would only be used once. Technology and management reporting needed to change and figure a way to make marketers self-reliant. To do this some right-brain thinking had to be applied. The approach was to provide marketers with the ability to ....
  • Follow a train of thought and change their mind without having to go back to the well every time they thought of something different
  • Create new information (data) since we have no idea what interim metrics might prove useful
  • Visualize patterns and relationships since we don't yet understand how to organize any better
So rather than define reports in terms of rows and columns our focus was on understanding what behaviors and transactions mattered to marketing and what attributes might be useful to better understand what people do.

Today, the fire hose that is social media data poses some of the same challenges. How do we harness the vast quantities of raw data to help marketing achieve its objective: align solutions with needs to everyone's benefit?

(Disclosure: at the time this talk was given I worked for a software company focused on solving this problem. Today I work on the agency side trying to understand it all over again.)


Anonymous said...

Very insightful and good info. Worth reading again and sending to lots of folks. I look forward to more information on this from you. It strikes a nerve here in my office! It's amazing how this applies to learning, presentations, office team work, etc, etc. Explains why often people in offices butt heads too.

David Beard said...

Concur with JeffHurt, Anthony - great piece. In a world increasingly flooded with data, people seem to think that marketing can be more scientific. It can - about what you know ! - what about what you don't ?!

-= David

Mike Storzieri said...

Good article, with the on-slot of social media, you see marketers throwing out pieces of disjointed psychology in their online marketing, without understanding how each part could work together in harmony, to accomplish their goals.