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What Happened To Marketing Intuition?

As I sit here and think about all the marketers I talk to on a daily basis, I am dumbfounded by how many of them aren't tapping into their marketing intuition to make decisions and drive their brands.

I remember a time when some of the best marketing leaders in the business taught me that strong, successful marketing was part good idea, part strong research and large part instinct. I remember my mentors wearing it like a badge of honor. It's what it took to be good and it came from years of watching, learning and growing up in the business.

While I own my own agency today, I spent most of the early part of my career on the client side, and it was there that I was first taught the touchy-feely art of marketing intuition: the practice of listening to one's own belief system based on knowledge and years of experience. Simply stated, it's whether your gut believes a concept will work or not.

Today, sadly, brand managers and corporations have thrown marketing intuition out the window in the face of increasing financial pressures and the desire for short-term results.

While I can't blame them -- I know intimately the pressure they are under -- the current approach to building campaigns has lost the ingredient of pure gut instinct that are often the underpinnings of those that are most ground breaking and successful. Sure, there are a few exceptions, brands like Apple and Method spring to mind, but, in general, where did all that fabulous marketing intuition go?

There are signs some of it is coming back, with recent announcements by Target and Starbucks that instead of continuing to get pulled into price wars against Walmart and McDonald's (respectively) they are going back to the values and messages that made their brands great.

There are plenty out there who speculate they'll fail, but when you read what these leaders have to say about the thinking behind the shift, it's clear that after all of the research, number crunching and rigorous internal debate, it's their gut that's giving them the strength of their convictions.

As someone who prides herself and her business on the ability to craft strategic, creative and clever programs, our best work always taps into our intuition. . How long will it take our industry to realize that research or metric analysis alone won't be the answer, that marketers can and do "think" an idea, and ultimately a brand, to death? As Bob Haas, Chairman Emeritus of Levi Strauss & Co. once directed me, "Create programs that have never been done before and it's okay if one fails ... then I'll know you pushed your limit, and trusted yourself to take some risks."

Corporations need to trust their marketers and empower them to make choices for their brands that put instinct back in the mix. So people, it's time to bring out the old marketing intuition and dust it off. Get clear with yourselves on how much you believe, truly believe, that the approach on the table will work, and if you don't trust it will (even if the numbers say it could) get real with yourselves and push your teams and agencies harder for the innovation you need to give it your intuitive stamp of approval.

4 comments about "What Happened To Marketing Intuition? ".
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  1. Jonathan salem Baskin from Global Brand Strategist, February 11, 2010 at 7:23 a.m.

    Clients forsake marketing intuition because it has proven time after time to be squishy, incomplete, and often utterly distanced from the reality of business and consumer experience. Marketers who still operate in the 'we don't get no respect' universe are just dooming themselves to eventual unemployment. Reality doesn't have to be brutish and dull; marketers' challenge should be to get off the Belief Wagon and start acknowledging the truth.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, February 11, 2010 at 9:13 a.m.

    Inductive and deductive reasoning seems not to be part of the ciricula anymore. Classical literature is full of ideas of how people use ideas. Jumping directly into number crunching and technology misses the reasons they were created.

  3. Tim Orr from Barnett Orr Marketing Group, Inc., February 11, 2010 at 12:38 p.m.

    The essential ingredient is courage. If you're going to go with your gut, you have to also have the guts to take the criticism and blame if your gut fails you. Too many people want the glory of success, but are not willing to accept the humiliation of defeat.

  4. Ute Hagen from YSC Your Success Counts GmbH, February 12, 2010 at 8:42 a.m.

    I agree that exceptional Marketing requires courage and intuition. However, I also agree with Jonathan that most clients do NOT have good intuition any more because they ignore their customers' needs. Therefore a marketer should only follow their intuition, if they have first have spent sufficient time to deeply understand the wants and needs of their customers. If you don't really care about your customers (and just think about yourself), then indeed you are too distanced from the reality and hence your intuition is indeed useless and even "dangerous".

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