Is There A Phrenologist In The House?

25 07 2008

Around 1800, a German physician named Franz Joseph Gall developed a “science” called Phrenology.

Crazy old Franz felt you could positively identify a person’s personality traits by “reading” the crevices and lumps and bumps on their skulls. (Today, Franz would be working in the web analytics business. But, I digress.)

The point of all this is that marketers ping-pong between believing in magic and believing in science.

We love magic. We’ve found the transcendent creative idea! We’ve tapped into a deep emotional reservoir! Everyone’s falling in love with our brand!

But by definition, magic is rare and special. It’s not an everyday thing. What do we do if we need to make our numbers every day?

That’s why we love science. The brilliant analysis! The hiddden data! That moment when we learn that not only is there light at the end of the tunnel, it’s coming from a rainbow and a gigantic pot of gold!

But that too is a rare occurrance. If we’re honest, most of the time it’s just a jumble of confusing numbers. Data, data everywhere, but not an idea to think.

Paul Barsch has sparked a good conversation about this over at Marketing Profs Daily Fix. No matter which side you favor — science or emotion — you’ll find something interesting to think about.

More good reads:

As for me? I believe in balance but if I had to choose, I believe more in magic than in science. Data can tell us a lot, but it can’t tell us everything. In the end — for better and for worse, we’re humans, not computers. I’ll bet the Zune had far more market research than the iPhone, and look at their results.

In its own way, science is as seductive as magic. We love the illusion that if we had all the data, we’d have all the answers.

Phrenology was a science once, too. Until we learned that the bumps on our heads we were feeling were the result of banging our heads against the wall.