Doug Zarkin

At our core, marketers are storytellers. And from the beginning of our careers onward, we are continually balancing art and science in order to present those narratives that not only motivate people to take actions that contribute to business growth but also build a community of people who are impassioned about the solutions that we provide in their everyday lives.

During a recent New York Chapter Dinner and Roundtable, I had the opportunity to lead a discussion about the different factors that go into finding and maintaining this balance within our departments and organizations. Contrary to how it may feel amongst a digital-obsessed world, many of these have less to do with how one uses the latest technology or some advanced piece of data. Instead, I would suggest that they boil down to our ability as leaders to evaluate the situation, set benchmarks, ask the right questions and understand how each individual on the team can help move us toward one customer-centric goal. A journey focused not just on “the what,” but equally on “the how.”

Start with Mastering the Art of Sacrifice

None of us have limitless resources. As marketers, a very key component to success is our ability to discern between the essentials and the nonessentials. Without that curated list, the journey becomes overwhelming.

While data (big or small) continues to provide an ever-clearer picture of our customers and their actions, it’s important to make sure the numbers act as breadcrumbs and not the sole source of input to “paint the entire picture.” In short, we must not sacrifice our inner-artists, our power of observation and instinct when in the pursuit of these total business solutions.

Understand There are Two Sides of the Same Coin

Just as important as what insights data provides are what insights it does not.

At the end of the day, data is only as good as the questions you and your team are asking that fuel the data. And so, finding a means to continue building a clear story with a consistent narrative requires investing more time in asking the right questions – not necessarily more questions! Take time to reflect on what might not be there, or what new avenues you can find that may lead to breakthroughs. In the end, this extra step will evoke data that is more useful.

How you ask a question is key! Demand a clear narrative when presented with big data. Each facet of the analysis needs to present clear answers to these questions:

  • What does it say?
  • What does it mean?
  • Now, what do we do next? 

Realize that True Collaboration Requires Picking your Battles

As a marketing leader, it’s essential to have the humility to know that you can’t win every fight or battle internally and – even more essentially – with consumers externally (hence the aforementioned point about sacrifice). Collaboration does not mean always finding consensus.

Don’t think about just what you want to say or individual campaigns that must stay the same from initial iteration to end. Instead, focus on a relentless pursuit of consistency when and where it matters most. Build a small but meaningful list of core story elements that can serve as your guideline and be flexible beyond that.

The most successful marketers and leaders look at the marketing plan and vision as a manuscript they and their teams create. Ask yourself if what is being asked or suggested propels the story forward. The harder it is to see how it advance your brands plotline, the more likely you should be to object and embrace the notion of “no or not now.”

In the end, as a team of artists and scientists (the art and science of marketing, at least) we are on a quest to pen a results-driven narrative the connects emotionally with consumers in a way that motivates them. It’s a journey of balance that requires continuous practice, continuous study and a team of marketing superhero’s, but one that will pay off tenfold in a museum quality piece to be proud of.