Welcome to Search Engine Land’s newest column, Conversion Science. Here we’ll focus on the Three M’s—methods, math and marketing, all beautifully intertwined—for maximizing the quantity and quality of your conversions through search and search-related media.
To kick things off though, I’m going to debunk a common misunderstanding about doing things “scientifically” and reveal why marketers have a far greater advantage in this arena than you might realize at first.
The scientific method
Back in high school, you probably learned about the “scientific method.” It’s the systematic approach you’re supposed to take when conducting experiments:
- Form a hypothesis
- Figure out how to test the hypothesis
- Run the experiment and collect the data
- Analyze the data
- Interpret the results and draw conclusions
Your conclusions in the step—whether positive or negative—in turn inspire new hypotheses, and a virtuous cycle of discovery begins.
Because these steps follow a fixed order and emphasize a rigorous approach to collecting and analyzing data, most people think of the scientific method as an analytical discipline.
Perhaps you’ve heard kids advised, “oh, if you’re analytical, you should go into math or science.” The implication is that if you’re more creative, then you should probably avoid math and science and go into something else, like marketing.
What a terrible mistruth—one that has probably cost us generations of brilliant, creative scientists (and given more than a few marketers an unnecessary complex about analytics).
Great science springs from creativity
Here’s the big secret: while the analytical aspects of the scientific method are what’s often extolled, the first two steps are driven by right-brained creativity as much—if not more—than by left-brained reasoning.
How do you come up with a hypothesis? Creative thinking. There’s no step-by-step recipe you can blindly follow to develop a great hypothesis. You have to reach into your imagination and envision a question and a possible explanation.
How do you figure out the best way to test that hypothesis? Creative thinking again. Sure, some hypotheses will have an obvious way to be tested. But many will be more challenging. Selecting the right subjects for your experiment and carefully arranging the test so that the results are not contaminated by a jumble of confounding variables is an art unto itself. Coming up with a new way to run a certain type of experiments can be an even greater discovery than your initial hypothesis, as it may enable a whole new set of possibilities to be explored.
These first two steps are where brilliance shines. Everything else is pretty much paint-by-numbers.
Without creative thinking—out-of-the-box ideas, bold imagination, lateral associations and daring originality—the analytical machinery of the scientific method never even gets off the ground. You can mechanically run experiments all day long, but without that critical injection of innovation at the top, it’s all sound and fury signifying nothing. The wheel is spinning, but the hamster’s dead.
The marketer’s advantage
You can learn a process more easily than you can learn how to be creative. Almost anyone can follow a recipe to bake decent cookies; becoming a wondrously inventive pastry chef is another matter entirely.
In this way, most marketers have a tremendous leg up in adopting scientific methods. Marketing careers are typically built in roles where creativity is encouraged, if not outright demanded. It’s embedded in our educational programs, popular books, social norms, industry awards and self-identities. And like any skill or talent, with practice and encouragement, it blossoms and improves.
As a result, marketers are some of the most creative people in business.
The irony has been that in the growth of marketing analytics and scientific marketing, many marketers and marketing organizations have artificially dampened their creativity to try to be more analytical or more scientific—as if you had to trade one for the other.
In fact, marketers should do just the opposite: wield analytics and the scientific method to push their creativity further than they ever dared before.
Make no mistake, the analytical and experiment-driven dimensions of “the new marketing” are here to stay and are now integral to success. You’ve got to be able to do the math, reason deductively and implement systematic marketing methods that feed the engine of analytics.
But to a certain degree, much of that is like following a recipe. Maybe more of a Julia Child’s The Art of French Cooking recipe than a Betty Crocker instant cookie mix recipe. But still a recipe: methods are, after all, simply methodical.
What will make you a star chef—or search marketer—will be the soul-level combination of those analytical methods with your inspired creative spirit. Make analytics the servant of extraordinary marketing, not the other way around. Embrace these new left-brain skills without surrendering your right-brain magic. (If you haven’t yet, go out and read Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind.)
Infuse your imagination into the science, as much as the other way around.
Truth be told, that is what the greatest scientists have always done. Who knows? If Einstein were alive today, he just might be a search marketer. Or at least working for Google.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.