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Tuesday 2¢: What is Evidence Based Marketing? More Buzzword Bullsh*t?

Tuesday 2¢: What is Evidence Based Marketing? More Buzzword Bullsh*t?

Welcome to the Tuesday 2¢ . It’s Tuesday, the weekend is a distant memory and it’s time to let off some steam and give our 2 cents on a hot industry topic. This week Ian Truscott discusses the phrase "evidence based marketing" and whether it is worth listening to at all.


I came across the phrase “evidence based marketing” the other day in an article in Marketing Week, about the new CMO at Mars, Andrew Clarke .

I wondered if, like me, you were curious as to whether this was something we should be getting on-board with as marketers. Or, whether it’s just another example of this industry’s attraction to using shiny new buzzwords to describe what we already do, a new brand of snake oil that some bright consultant thinks he can corner the market with - like Agile Marketing (a topic at which I had a bit of tilt in this blog a couple of months ago).

If you judge whether a thing is a real thing by its Google search results, “evidence based marketing” fetches you around 14m results, with the Marketing Week article rated as third. Compare that with the darling of the marketing zeitgeist “content marketing", however, which edges close to 50m, and “evidence based marketing” barely registers according to this crude Google Trends metric .

Of course, you don’t get to be the CMO of Mars by consuming snake oil, but if you check out some of the articles which purport to explain this practice, you find an awful lot of vacuous business speak which shows our industry at it’s very worst: band wagon content that’s in it for the SEO love.

On the other end of the scale we have Seth Godin, who ( in a blog post from 2011 ) refers to evidence marketing as marketing which tries to prove a product’s effectiveness in order to sell it. He gives an example of Apple selling against Microsoft to big company IT departments in the 80’s, through studies which proved that the Mac was easier and cheaper to support.

Now this sounds good to me - trust based marketing using evidence of a product’s effectiveness – it’s all sensible stuff. However, this does not seem to be the definition likely to be used by Mars. After all, could it prove that its brand of confectionary was better than another?

You then quickly stumble upon the rather impressive sounding Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science (YES – science my friends) who Clarke (Mars CMO) actually cites as their partner in this strategy. But, despite being the “Home of Evidence Based Marketing” and forming part of an academic institution, it’s an incredibly thin, sales brochure of a website which presents very little information aside from how you too might like to employ the institute’s marketing “scientists” or buy its books.

It does house a blog, however, (called News) and you can find this article which starts to lift the lid on what the heck they are talking about. Once you get past the incredibly earnest sciencey speak, such as:

"Empirically derived laws of marketing science tells us where we should be creative and where we should not […] These scientific laws offer parameters within which brands can be confident that they’re spending their advertising dollars in the right way",

you do eventually get to some practical advice, for example concerning targeting:

  1. Make your target market definitions evidence based.

  2. Include as many as possible in your target market.

  3. Avoid the heavy buyer trap.

  4. Don’t sacrifice reach for engagement.

  5. Have broadly appealing creative.

If you swap “evidence based” for “data driven”, it’s all a bit more accessible and really what any mainstream marketer should be doing today.

It seems, therefore, that there is good work happening here around a deeper understanding of the buying journey and the use of data to test a marketing hypothesis including the book which most people refer to, “ How Brands Grow ” by Professor Byron Sharp. I love marketing books and I shall be sure to get a copy, the content looks interesting.

But “evidence based marketing”, all wrapped up in the rather pretentious branding of science and highfalutin words, makes it feel like bullsh*t. All it is, from what I can tell, is data and insight based marketing.

To go back to my crude yardstick, if you put “data driven marketing” vs “evidence based marketing” into Google Trends, it seems that the majority of us describe using data to do better marketing as “data driven marketing”, whereas “evidence based marketing” simply flat lines.

So, it seems we can all relax. Back to Mr Godin, quoted in Marketing Magazine :

Some marketers are scientists. They test and measure. They do the maths. They understand the impact of that spend in that market at that time with that message. They can understand the analytics and find the truth. The other marketers are artists. They inspire and challenge and connect. These marketers are starting from scratch, creating movements, telling jokes and surprising people.

Finally, I like this quote from Mark Ritson, who was in debate with Sharp, also in Marketing Week , which I think we can apply to the overzealous application of any of these buzzy new age marketing practices:

It’s not gin versus tonic, I’m gin and tonic, Professor Sharp’s just tonic. In fact, I’m not even gin and tonic, I’m all the different drinks you want at the right time and in the right place, but Professor Sharp is just tonic and you’re not allowed to drink it because it’s not scientifically allowed.

I might have included that quote because it mentions gin, but I hope this post has answered a question nonetheless – what is evidence based marketing? Based on this very quick trip, it walks, quacks, swims like data-driven marketing which a few practitioners like to call Anas platyrhynchos as it makes them sound different and special.

Is it bullsh*t? Well… it’s trying really hard to sound like it….

Ian Truscott Ian Truscott

Ian Truscott has the unofficial and honory title of the “Träger des Firmen-Megaphons” for censhare, bringing 20 years of B2B software experience to our company (surely starting as a child) to lead marketing here. Luckily for us in the Munich office, he’s found the kettle and some tea bags – look at him, he’s happy.

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