Marketing Also Requires Intuition and Courage
by Chad Rueffert

I remind people all the time that marketing is a professional, technical, disciplined business function that requires planning, hinges on strategy and should provide a return on investment for every dollar spent.


I’m beginning to sound like a college professor who pulled his necktie too tight. 


Don’t get me wrong.  Discipline and strategy are requirements of a good marketing plan.  But so are intuition, courage, savvy, experience, creativity and good old common sense. 


The truth is, many marketers who rely on intuition and common sense have succeeded, while many more scientific marketers have failed, despite a heavy emphasis on research, strategy, testing and market studies (think New Coke, OS/2 and Euro-Disney).


Johnny Johansson and Ikujiro Nonaka, authors of “Relentless:  The Japanese Way of Marketing” explain it this way:  “The problem is that a scientific approach to marketing is not only a potential obstacle to the imagination, but it can also be very misleading by answering the wrong questions correctly.” 


So, then, why do so many companies, especially large, established companies, rely on the scientific approach and reject intuitive ideas?  Primarily because many professional marketers prefer an approach where they can easily justify their decisions.  A decision based on intuition ties its success or failure directly to the idea maker.  A decision based solely on research and market data provides a serious covering for the rear-end of the decision maker.  It comes down to a lack of courage, and I see it happen every day.  Agencies (or marketing departments) come up with blockbuster ideas that they lack the courage to present to the client (or the boss).  Clients lack the courage to act on those same blockbuster ideas when they are offered the opportunity, which discourages the agencies from presenting the next great intuitive idea they find.  So, the intuitive approach is often scrapped for the one justified by hard data, which can be a mistake.


Let me give you an example.  Every taste test done on New Coke showed that consumers liked the taste better than Classic Coke.  But somehow the Coca-Cola company missed a piece of common sense almost everyone knows:  If It’s Not Broken, Don’t Fix It.  Sometimes common sense trumps market data.


Now look at another example.  Budweiser’s latest campaign with the “Whassup” crew took off when a Vinny Warrant, a copywriter for their advertising agency, saw a short film called “True” by Charles Stone. Right then he felt a flash of intuition that “True” would make a great Budweiser ad. 


“There was no reason to assume the rest of the country wouldn’t react the same way,” he said, and they moved forward on that assumption.  Bob Lachky, vice-president of brand management for Anheuser Busch, termed the campaign “a calculated risk.”  Assumptions, intuition and risk led to one of the most successful campaigns of the year.


The problem with limiting your marketing to the scientific processes is that the purpose of marketing is to influence human behavior, and there are no set rules for how humans as a group behave.  A successful marketer should have a talent for identifying how individuals will react, instead of dumbing down their message to relate to the lowest common denominator, which ends up appealing to no one.


“The scientific approach to marketing, coupled with the technical complexity of the standard texts, easily distances the marketer from the mind of the customer.  It also puts hard limits on the marketer’s imagination – if it cannot be put into numbers, the case is harder to make,” say Johannson and Nonaka, and I agree.  But just because the case is harder to make should not disqualify it from consideration.


So, here’s my advice.  Follow both marketing paths.  In the end, they’ll take you to the same place and you’ll arrive with twice the knowledge and insight than you’d have if you only followed one.  Use research and data and strategy to support intuition, creativity and common sense.  Use your common sense and intuition to tune your strategy to the responses of the individual consumer.  And most of all, when your intuition tells you something will work, have the courage to give it a try.