In the early part of my career, I always thought that the combination of “soft” skills, like marketing, and quantitative skills, like engineering, was rare. Looking back, I assume that was due to my work in manufacturing as a mechanical engineer. Being surrounded by such analytical, black/white, data-driven individuals rarely gave me the opportunity to see beyond that viewpoint. And, it taught me to to be completely data-obsessive since I tracked and measured and plotted every aspect of every project on which I worked.
Add 15 years and a business degree (where I naively assumed that touting my engineering background in my application essay would make me stand out – a definite mistake at Carnegie Mellon, where slightly above 50% of students have technical undergrads), and I’m now finding that the qualitative/quantitative combination is slightly more common than I previously thought, but still a rare and valuable combination, particularly in the tech space.
Take Google. Most of their employees are incredibly intelligent but very technical, and it shows in their marketing and their product design. I use many of their tools, probably because I’m an engineer at heart, but constantly snicker to myself when I think about a non-technical person trying to perform simple tasks. It’s almost as if they don’t even consider the “average” user, let alone those who are technically inept. Contrast that with Apple who, while creating incredibly technical products, ships the iPhone without a manual. I won’t even mention the laughable Marissa Mayer profile in the New York Times where she – the VP of User Experience – talked about using her marketing “gut” to force her team to “test the 41 gradations (of color) between the competing blues to see which ones consumers might prefer.” (Forty-one?!)
For example, Gmail is a great email tool and I use it as my primary personal email, but it’s design could be best described as technically proficient, not utterly usable. The fact that they just recently added the ability to sort contacts by last name is a case in point.
I also have Google’s Nexus One Android phone and absolutely love it (probably because the techie side of me “gets” the idiosyncrasies). But comparing the experience to that of the iPhone, you can tell that Android was developed by engineers with little input from people with “softer” skills in design, marketing, and usability. It’s the small things, like the way app names that are too long are abruptly cut off, with no wrap, no ellipsis, nothing. Or the way music totally cuts out for a second or so before a new-email ding or an appointment reminder tone, and then takes a second or so to restart after the reminder (as opposed to the iPhone’s seamless, simultaneous sounds). Or take the way you access the memory card when connected to your laptop via USB: you find the settings to “mount” or “unmount” the card. Not the most intuitive procedure, and I’m still not sure which is which.
But, Dan Cobley, a marketing director at Google, gave a short talk at TEDGlobal 2010: “What physics taught me about marketing.” It was highly entertaining to me because he connected physics and marketing principles, two things I get. While the viewer comments are on the negative side, he’s obviously a techie at heart who takes a quantitative approach to marketing, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
While I try to restrain my quant urges as a marketer, it’s fun to see someone make an unabashed pitch for why marketing is ultimately a technical pursuit. Watch his short (8 minutes) preso and let me know what you think.