What is Marketing Science?

Practically any occupation that involves programming, data collection, data storage, or data analysis is now called data science, it seems. This includes marketing science, and I confess I often refer to myself as a data scientist. Occupational titles go in and out of fashion and, before the term marketing science was commonly used, people doing the sorts of things I do for a living were called statisticians, research directors or simply marketing researchers.

So, what is marketing science? Here is Wikipedia’s definition:

Marketing science is a field that approaches marketing – the understanding of customer needs, and the development of approaches by which they might be fulfilled – predominantly through scientific methods, rather than through tools and techniques common with research in the arts or in humanities. The field of marketing science, in the pursuit of “truths” in marketing, is related to, but more general than marketing research, which is oriented towards a specific product, service or campaign.

The Marketing Science Institute (MSI) is a good resource for marketing scientists, though aimed more at academics than practitioners. The American Marketing Association and ESOMAR are two sources for general news and information pertaining to marketing research and marketing science. What Does Marketing Science Bring to the Table? is a brief article I co-authored with Koen Pauwels, a highly-respected marketing professor, that addresses the question posed by the article’s title.

What is Marketing?What is Marketing Research?Anyone Can Do Marketing Research and Why Bother with Marketing Research? are short articles that provide some background on marketing and marketing research. Introducing Marketing Research to Data Scientists may also be of interest to data science people who haven’t had much direct involvement in marketing or marketing research.

When the particulars of a profession change to the point where a qualitative transformation has occurred, the label for that profession will have lost its meaning. In the case of marketing science, I don’t believe that has happened. For example, many of the analytics tools now loosely called machine learning or, even less precisely “AI”, either originated in statistics or have been known to statisticians and marketing scientists for quite some time. I recall a conversation in the late ‘80s with my boss about neural nets in which he (half-jokingly) predicted that there would be no need for statisticians within ten years. Marketing science, like many professions, is more complex than it was 30 years ago, but its essence has remained the same.

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What are the core knowledge domains and skills of marketing science? There are many, but for senior marketing scientists some of the most important ones are:

  • Basic and advanced statistics (including machine learning)
  • Experimental, non-experimental and quasi-experimental research designs
  • Sampling theory and practice
  • Basic programming (advanced programming for some positions)
  • Fundamentals of data management (advanced knowledge for some positions)
  • Survey research and questionnaire design 
  • Qualitative research fundamentals
  • Critical thinking and analytical skills
  • Consumer behavior and marketing 
  • Business understanding
  • Business development
  • Management
  • Presentation and communication skills
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Training 

In summary, marketing science has commonalities with many positions typically described as data science. It is more than programing, data mining and predictive analytics, though these are often aspects of our work. Ability to design primary research is a must. Data management, however, is usually not one of our responsibilities.

Another key distinction between marketing science and most data science jobs is that a much deeper understanding of statistics is required. Some background in the social and behavioral sciences beyond economics and marketing is also desirable, and causal analysis plays a more prominent role in marketing science, as does survey research.  

It is a rewarding and challenging profession but, like any, not for everyone. I’m happy it found me, though! 



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