At yesterday’s Social Media Strategies Summit, an interesting set of questions was posed:

What does it mean to be a data scientist or a marketing scientist? Do you need to be a Ph.D.?

My answer to the question was simple: no, you don’t need a doctoral degree, though it certainly helps. More than anything, science is a state of mind, a point of view. Identifying members of your company who would be good candidates for the kinds of data work that marketing is increasingly being required to do is less about qualifications (they DO help) and more about curiosity. At the core, science is about wanting to know more for knowledge’s sake. The word itself is derived from the Latin scire, to know.

Museum of Science

The scientific personality is someone who wants to constantly know more, who wants to dig deeper, who accepts and embraces errors and anomalies, who doesn’t accept pat answers or dogma blindly, who wants to understand how things work. These attitudes are what power science, and they are just as much personality traits as they are formal training. Someone who is intellectually curious but untrained will, over the long term, be far more effective and deliver far greater results for your marketing than someone with training who is incurious, because the curious person will keep learning, keep growing, and keep increasing their capabilities.

Combine a scientific, curious mindset with basic scientific method practice and you have a winning combination for someone who wants to grow their career from being a standard marketer to becoming a marketing scientist. It will take a long time – becoming proficient in anything takes years and practice – but it’s an eminently achievable goal for any marketer, not just folks with Ph.D.’s and statistical training. Want to talk to two people who understand this well? Give a shout to Tom Webster and Tamsen Webster, both of whom I highly respect as people who understand and can coach these attitudes.


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