Has objectivity eclipsed creativity in marketing?

Every new year we hear analysts and journalists touting the latest trends, predictions and evolutions in the world of marketing. They’re usually right, but rarely are they earth-shattering. These changes happen gradually, and we’re all experiencing them well before a Google search of “2016 marketing trends” yields pages of results.  In fact, typically by the time those reports come out, 2016 and the trends that come with it are old news (I mean, I started budgeting for 2016 in July 2015, and by January 2016 I’m nearly ready to start thinking about 2017).

This year I took a more active role in the observation of these trends by way of participating in a handful of interviews with various media publications. While my answers came easily and seemed obvious, as I reflect upon them I’ve had a realization:

The world of marketing really has changed. The plethora of technology; the expectation of budget-savviness; and the ability to measure every channel, tactic and touchpoint have created a marketing environment seemingly devoid of subjectivity. The Mad Men days are over. We don’t rely on gut instincts and feelings because we have tools and data. What will get people to click and take action can be boiled down to a formula – down to the color of the button (see my post on color psychology).

When asked during my interviews what skills matter most in marketing, I didn’t say “creativity, design skills, ability to understand people, and willingness to take risks based on gut instinct.” I said “technical competency, ability to make data-driven decisions, budget management, and adaptability.” These are skills which rely heavily on the ability to be objective. Sounds like an IT professional could do the job of a marketer. And in some organizations we’re even seeing IT departments take on greater responsibility for marketing technology (I shall address that at another time).

So, in 2016 and beyond will objectivity eclipse creativity in marketing?

Despite the ever-growing trends toward technology and data, I say no. Why? Because despite all this, I still believe there’s a heart, soul and skill to marketing. Whenever I’m looking to hire someone and I’m evaluating the skill sets of the candidates, I always say, “I’d rather hire a marketer and teach them the technology, than hire a technologist I have to teach to be a marketer.” Technology is a tool, but there’s still a layer of subjectivity, humanity and creativity – beyond the formulas – required to attract, engage, convert and delight customers.

I’m certainly not suggesting we give a free pass to the technology-ignorant marketers out there. Today, you need to be able to read tactical reports, measure the funnel, understand how to develop integrated campaigns, know how automation works, leverage lead scoring, and live in your CRM platform. But these things do not replace understanding your audience, appealing to their senses, and hitting them with the right message via the right channels at the right time.