The Timeless Truths of Scientific Marketing

Have you noticed? Things are changing more frenetically than ever—once again.

Many people think it’s undeniable. Life is infinitely more complicated now, especially if you’re a marketer. They say it’s unprecedented. Unparalleled. Unfathomable. And winning is unbelievably hard. I say, maybe not.

Sailing in uncharted waters is far less complex when you have a North Star. Discovering what’s actually new is easier if you know what’s been unearthed before.

In life and in marketing, things change. Technology advances. Behavior evolves. Yet there are certain undeniable truths, tested over time. They’re intrinsic to the activities of humans in the modern age. These truths have been tested and solidified during the various eras of marketing: The print period. The radio days. The television age. The direct mail era. Web 1.0. Web 2.0. And now, during the social/mobile revolution.

These truths should be rediscovered and revered. They are known by some, but ignored by many. That must change—now.

But who knows the truth?

Many marketers seem unaware or in denial. However, there is a community of studied practitioners—analysts, statisticians, schooled creatives—who have dedicated their lives to the science of marketing. These practitioners have been honing their craft for more than 150 years. Theirs is a methodology based on rigorous testing and rooted in data and analytics. They have always held customer centricity and accountability as cornerstones of the marketing discipline. The “truths” that these marketing “scientists” have discovered materially increase the efficacy of marketing.

Claude Hopkins wrote about this methodology in Scientific Advertising in 1923. John Caples advanced our understanding of the approach in 1932 with Tested Advertising Methods. David Ogilvy built on the teachings of giants with his writings in the 1960s. Lester Wunderman, Bob Stone and Ed Nash continued the evolution in the 1970s and 1980s. (And folks like me have been rigorously applying these time-tested truths in the digital age.)

These aforementioned legends would suggest that marketing in its optimal state is a science. It’s methodological, predictable, repeatable, scalable, profitable, and galvanizing to the humans it targets.

They would likely proffer that it is the obligation of marketers to whom brands and budgets are entrusted to understand this methodology, seek to apply its strategic framework, and ideally add to the understanding of this ever-evolving discipline.

Unfortunately, many contemporary marketers shun this methodology and its teachings. Why? Many sophisticated practitioners of this data-driven marketing method historically called what they did “direct marketing.” But years of direct mail testing (when mail was the best data-enriched marketing approach) have built strong associations between this scientific approach and this older marketing channel. The association with direct mail—rightly or wrongly—has stunted the adaptation of this rigorous, analytical method and minimized the broad-scale understanding of many time-tested lessons.

The time has come to review scientific marketing’s teachings and embed its lessons into the DNA of anyone who is or aspires to operate within the marketing profession. The time is now to expand the community of schooled marketing science practitioners so that we can effectively advance our discipline.

If better understood, appreciated, and deployed, the proven truths of marketing will catapult the careers of marketers and substantially elevate respect for the marketing profession.

But how will this all happen?

Hopefully, this monthly column, called “Timeless Marketing Truths,” will help. In it, I’ll provide a manageable list of “truths” about marketing that are too often overlooked today.

The 1980s book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten reminded readers of the life lessons they learned long ago. Like that book, my column will share this comforting news: All you really need to know about marketing you learned in kindergarten, too. This includes concepts like “Birds of a feather flock together” and “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” But lest I not get ahead of myself: More of these timeless truths will be revealed in time.

So I hope you’ll take the time to read the forthcoming “Timeless Truths” every month. Then share them. Debate them. Refine them. And join me in this quest to contribute to advance the science of marketing.

Yes, things are changing more frenetically than ever. But marketers need not toil in a period of uncertainty. Instead, we should operate with confident clarity. The scientific marketing lessons that we have learned over the years and the success they drive should never go out of style—and that’s the truth.


Lawrence M. Kimmel is executive director of hawkeye and a frequent keynote speaker at marketing conferences around the world. Follow him @KimmelsCorner.

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