“The drift from art to science has eclipsed the magic that made marketing so marvellous…”

I love marketing. You love marketing. We all love marketing. And if you don’t, you’re reading the wrong publication.

marc mathieu

But what is it that we love? Is it the diligently rigorous, bulletproof logic that is required to sustainably and competitively make the right strategic choices (and help us keep our jobs along the way)? Or is it the magic of our craft – the thing that makes us aspire, desire, wonder, marvel – that got us into this sector in the first place?

I didn’t go into marketing for the love of logic and I suspect you didn’t either. Not that the numbers aren’t important. They play a crucial role in informing our judgement, improving our decisions, fortifying our intuition and measuring the results of our craft. But they are only half the picture.

For too long, we have tried to make marketing so predictable that we have lost the magic that makes it unique. Our craft isn’t just a mathematical field, it’s a social one too. Yet the drift from art to science, from emotional to rational, from right side of the brain to left, has eclipsed the magic that made marketing so marvellous to begin with.

The great magician Harry Houdini once said: “Magic is the sole science not accepted by scientists because they can’t understand it.” Have we become scientists ourselves?

Finding the right balance between magic and logic is necessary to conjure exceptional experiences that build brand love time and time again. Unlocking the magic of our craft, hidden in the logic of our science, is the only way to connect with people who buy your products by touching their emotions.

I don’t pretend to be a magician – far from it – but I have been lucky to see magic happen in my marketing life, not least the late, great chief marketing alchemist Steve Jobs pulling the newly created iPod Nano from the tiny pocket in the front of his jeans (the one you always wondered what to put in) and capturing in that simple gesture the wonders of technology and Apple’s capacity to change our lives.

Not far behind was seeing people across the globe, from Budapest to Beijing, marvel at Coke’s giant Happiness Factories, inspired by a simple 30-second ad. Or Unilever’s Lynx/Axe Even Angels Will Fall campaign executed globally, in totally locally relevant ways, whether in the cinemas of Thailand or the train stations of Great Britain. The magic was finding a universal truth that worked in all markets.

I think these three examples only exist because the conditions were set for the stars to align. They didn’t appear out of nothing. They required hard work and effort. But most of all, they required leadership. How do we lead for magic and align the stars? Here’s five things we should try.

Believe in it. We will never create magical marketing without believing in the magic of marketing. Would Santa Claus have ever existed had we never believed? Yet, every Christmas, we play the game of believing because nothing is more magical than the excitement and wonder of a child awaiting their presents on Christmas morning.

Feel it. Ultimately, a marketer’s goal is to make people feel something. But how can we do that unless we’re able to feel it ourselves? I’ve argued before that marketers need to rediscover our humanity and, unashamedly, I’ll argue it again. At the heart of any magical piece of marketing lies a human emotion. It might be pride, fear, happiness or humour. We, as marketers, are people too. If we can’t feel it, why would anyone else?

See it. Magic doesn’t save itself for those with the deepest pockets. A big production budget and expensive TV spot might help, but it won’t guarantee anything. Nor does the answer necessarily lie in the technology now at our disposal. I have seen huge budgets go wasted, as often as I’ve seen small, simple, easy tricks work. Magic is elusive, but not exclusive. It is about the idea, not the money. You must see magic in the people, not in the means.

Try it. A magic trick rarely works the first time it’s tried. Another great comment from Harry Houdini was: “The public sees only the thrill of the accomplished trick; they have no conception of the tortuous preliminary self training that was necessary.”

You have to be willing to sometimes fall on your face, get up and dust yourself down knowing that experimentation leads to mastery. Failure is an option, but fear is not. Inspiring bravery, not trepidation, is a must.

Celebrate it. Magic, real magic, is hard. You need to recognise that it’s the people that make the magic happen, not the machine. Reward those who make the heart-stopping, goose-bumping wonders happen. At Unilever, we have created the Magic Makers Awards, a simple handwritten card accompanied by a small personalised gift to recognise those that add some extraordinary moments to life.

We live in a time where we’re often told that logic is the answer to all our problems but there is a world beyond this thinking. Where logic alone has failed, we need to astonish and to delight in order to allow the people we reach to believe, experience, see and feel the power of magic too. The human desire to believe will always be out there. It’s time to pull the rabbit out of the hat.

Marc Mathieu is senior vice-president of marketing at Unilever, and responsible for developing the company’s global marketing strategy Crafting Brands for Life.

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