Reclaiming the Art of Marketing: Bringing Back the Marketing Mix

Imagine being a chef charged with creating the perfect meal for a group of picky foodies. You have your reputation, even your job, on the line. The outcome of the meal- how it’s received by the group and how they speak about it to others” is of fundamental importance to your career. Years of schooling and tens of thousands of dollars of student loans needing repayment- that’s your situation. Being foodies, members of the group have nuanced dietary needs and desires; they also have discerning palates. They’ve been known to trash chefs when not fully satisfied with a meal.

You ingest all the information you need to about their particulars and are given free run on ingredients. You think you can do this and you start feeling good about the process. You survey the kitchen and feel well-resourced to do the job. Your spirits are buoyed.

Then you hear the news. You are told that you have to prepare the meal and serve it with the use only of a small saucepan, a fork, a plastic tumbler, and 2 plates.

Your mind spins. How can you serve a perfect meal to a group of 6 foodies with just those implements? The rules are the rules though.

Never wanting to give up, you attempt to do the task. You slave for hours with the tools you are given. You do your best and make some decent grub. But you can’t produce what you want to- at the level you know you know you can perform- with the dearth of these tools. And you certainly can’t present the food to the group with the paucity of presentation elements you are given.

You end up failing. You are fired. You knew that the outcome was not up to snuff but you felt constrained. You try to offer up a defense but no one listens. Onto the next chef, they say.

You then reflect on the situation. Honest and introspective to the core, you ask yourself where you made the mistake. At what point did you conspire in this horrible outcome? A light bulb goes off. You kick yourself. You should have never agreed to the impossible terms of the situation. You should have walked right then. You knew that you did not have any ability to produce success under the mandated conditions. You knew your art was going to be compromised at that moment, but under duress you stuck. And all you have to show for your work is a pink-slip. Bummer.

This allegory sounds far-fetched but describes howsoever metaphorically the life of a Marketer, living under measurement mania. The deep-seated ROI mentality that has beguiled business leaders with the advent of digital marketing has created a situation in which most marketers are bound to fail structurally. When the art is gone, marketers are reduced to automatons who are given impossible tasks.

The logic here is insidious. It starts with the sensible desire to try to discern the efficacy of different tactics and to ensure the fair use of resources. Good intentions are important but they can set us on the wrong path.

In the case of Marketing when measurement is the mandate, the Marketer is faced with a stark choice. If indeed all things have to be measured and scrutinized under the ROI lens, then the Marketer is forced to use only those channels that are eminently measurement friendly. The Marketer also has to engage in the nefarious art of false-attribution. These constraints are the same as the chef’s. All the ingredients are there but if your tools to use these ingredients are narrowly predetermined then too outcome too will be narrow and imperfect.

The conundrum here lies in the abandonment of a hoary idea that has lost its resonance: the Marketing Mix. This abandonment is actually an abdication.

The idea of the Marketing Mix is simple. With a fixed resource base to use to drive an outcome or a set of outcomes, the marketer must decide where to place the bets. What fraction of the resource base will be used for what channel in order to maximize the chance of achieving the outcome. Knowing that marketing results are rarely scientifically attributable to any particular action, the marketer makes educated bets based on profiling the current and desired audience and learning as much about each channel as possible. Data no doubt plays a huge role here but the “therefores” are not the same as they are in Physics. Great Marketers have superb instincts about the “if…then” regarding their bets but the entire process is at a minimum equal part art and science. When the Marketer pretends that it is science, the path of ruin is breached.

In the world of maniacal focus on ROI or measurement, the Marketer’s calculus is different. In this mode, Marketing teams are forced to find and use channels and tools that are inherently measurable. This reduces the flexibility and predetermines the marketing mix. It also supposes a level of attribution that is untenable given the well-known vagaries and multiple variables that govern any significant outcome.

Measurement has another interesting corollary- mediocrity born of equality. If inherent measurability exists then each marketer has access to the same math. As such, the tendency will be to conform and to iterate on the same concepts versus busting out of the box and doing risky and creative things.

When we replace human creativity with machine-execution, we are reduced to comparing sizes- who has the bigger AI story? We no longer spar over ideas and engage in breakthrough thinking.

When we lose the Art, we become machine jockeys not Marketers.

Measurement is powerful but measurement mania is myopic. It is high-time Marketers reclaim the Marketing mix and thereby their very profession.


Romi Mahajan in an Author, Marketer, Investor, and Activist

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