Research vs. intuition in marketing, the uncloned version

  • by helga
  • 08/06/2013

marketing_dollyAn article in Marketing Week this week talks about the ‘educated intuition’ model used by Pernod Ricard, and analyses the required balancing act between research and intuition in marketing. The point being made is that marketing innovation usually stems from market insight, but sometimes testing a new campaign too much is a bad thing, especially when there are contradicting opinions emerging. The article goes on, bla bla bla, with quotations from Mr Head of Brands like “We have to make sure that it’s relevant in the brand positioning, maybe through qualitative research, and after you go through a round of quantitative research to try to validate.”, bla bla bla.

At this point I was yawning heavily. I considered switching back to my script for a short sci-fi movie, a project advancing slowly, but I held steadily to Marketing Week in the hope of finding something interesting to write about. Then it occurred to me: why are by-lines and opinion articles in the marketing trade press so depressingly boring? I mean, I’m ok with marketing news articles and research. But pick any piece of commentary, opinion or an interview with a Head of Marketing (The Marketer magazine is even worse in this than Marketing Week), and you’ll find the same jargon and the same ideas repeated over and over again, with no meaningful personal input. It’s like they’re clones of each other. I’m even scared that if I read these too much I’ll end up talking like them. Who can I blame for this giant marketing-drooling Dolly?

I mean, there are so many things you could say about research vs. intuition in marketing, right? So, off the top of my head, here is a random list of ideas between the concept of evidence (reason, research, science) vs. the concept of intuition (a-leap-in-the-dark, creativity, ‘gut feeling’) in marketing:  

Using scientific methodologies in marketing DOESN’T MAKE IT SCIENCE:

Marketing is still not a hard science, seriously. We can apply scientific methods in marketing research (control groups, placebos, statistics, maths) but we’re not defining rigorous, peer-reviewed formulas that you would blindly apply if your children’s lives depended on it. I’m all for scientific methods, but I never doubt that my own perceptions, biases and ideas are mixing up findings and turning it all around.

If you truly want to act on evidence, CHECK YOUR SOURCES:

I really like Cutting Edge – the weekly, short news round-up from CIM, containing insight from various areas within marketing. It’s serious, professional, using a variety of business and academic sources like the Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing, Harvard Business Review, International Journal of Advertising, and sometimes even Marketing Week and the UK nationals. Good journalism and good research is done by professionals and follows best practice. Evidence is NOT what you quote from random websites, people or sources no one recognises, that you bring up just to prove your point. There is ‘evidence’ for everything, even that the earth doesn’t revolve around the sun.

If you think you’re not using lots of intuition in your decision-making, READ DESCARTES’ ERROR:

Or Oliver Sacks. All rationality requires emotional input. People with brain damage in key areas of the brain that control emotion have lost their ability to decide. They can weigh up pros and cons indefinitely, never able to make a decision. Many people with no brain damage at all can spend an awful amount of time deciding something that it’s not worth 2 seconds, while others trust their intuition to the point of stupidity. It’s not one versus the other. Emotion, intuition and ‘gut-feeling’ are all required for the highest forms of intellectual endeavor. And also for marketing.

What many marketers call ‘intuition’ is MANY TIMES LAZINESS OR EGOMANIA

It’s typical in ultra-confident entrepreneurial types, who think they’re always right or don’t want to spend time with research which may challenge their preconceptions. Enlightened intuition, inspiration, or ‘creative spark’ for the matter, strikes usually those who believe they’ve been granted a special quality. Get off it. It’s about work. Work and a lot of luck along the way, for the opportunity of spending time thinking about marketing and creativity, rather than having to look for where the next meal is going to come from.


Take the relationship between science and politics. A very troubled relationship in the US, and even in the UK where homeopathy is shockingly available on the NHS (my tax is going towards this bad joke). I do believe that science and evidence should define policy as much as possible, and any strategy or policy decision should be based on sound evidence as much as possible. However, defining strategy, both in business and in politics, needs also to be based on ethics, which goes beyond merely testing if a proposition is true or false. Marketing strategy should be based on priorities, values, a wider vision for the company and its products and services. Evidence and research come in mostly when you need to evaluate specific tactics.

That’s it for now, folks. I think I failed in my attempt to make the topic less yawn-inducing. But at least it’s not the marketing Dolly.

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