Book review: The Science of Marketing

By Dan Zarrella

John or Paul? Daddy or chips? Science or art? The inexorable rise of marketing measurement has led some to believe that successful marketing can be scientifically codified, at least in part. This position is explored in detail in the latest book from Hubspot’s social media scientist, Dan Zarrella.

First things first - Zarrella does not cover all marketing in this book, sticking firmly to a single-minded online focus. Furthermore, don’t expect a study on how to optimise online display advertising, native advertising, Twitter and Facebook ads, online PR or even paid search (surely the perfect laboratory for the marketing scientist). Instead, Zarrella fixes his gaze on owned and earned media, specifically social media. That out of the way, is this book any good?

The answer to that question depends to a great extent on your reasons for buying it. If you are looking for insight into the psychological reasons why people respond to marketing, then this book will disappoint. Thankfully, marketers have been well served in the area of marketing and neuroscience in recent years, not least in Phil Barden’s book Decoded which was reviewed for the Marketing Society last summer.

However, if you are looking for some practical suggestions on how you can maximise the impact of your social media marketing then this book deserves a spot on your bookshelf. It won’t help you understand which platform to use to reach your specific audience but it will explain how best to use it.

Zarrella doesn’t pull his punches - for example using proprietary research to reinforce his assertion that, when it comes to website traffic generation, Twitter is most effective when used as a one-to-many broadcast tool rather than as a conversational platform.

The majority of the findings in the book are based on large-scale data analysis by Zarrella. This throws up some interesting suggestions - for example, encouraging B2B marketers to fill the communication void on weekends, and identifying which keywords encourage the most retweets, shares and likes.

Inevitably, due to the difficulty in codifying image and video content, Zarrella uses text, and particularly keywords, to identify patterns and trends. This focus on keywords means the chapter on the image-based social sharing site Pinterest is a little thin. Nevertheless, given the lack of serious study available on this powerhouse traffic-driver it’s good to have any data to refer to, no matter how limited.

Given the focus on owned online media, Zarrella’s decision not to include LinkedIn in the book is startling, given its importance to B2B marketers. Similarweb.com estimates that hubspot.com receives less than 2% of its traffic directly from LinkedIn - did this have an effect on  Zarrella’s choice? Or was it simply that the data was simply not available for study?

It is also surprising that the chapter on Analytics doesn’t give any practical hints as to how the reader will be able to start evaluating their own marketing more scientifically. Given the near obsession for data shown by the author this could have been a standout chapter.

Yet it is obvious that this book is the product of a hell of a lot of hard work and crucially it contains brand new actionable pointers using Hubspot’s considerable database. No rehashed case studies here - just real insight from real data. And although Zarrella's dry writing contains little in the way of light and shade, I challenge social media marketers to put down this book without being moved to action.

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