Should You Rely on Data or Your Gut

Does great creative come from data or from instinct?    Let me clarify that what I mean by "great creative" is "creative that gets results".    

Every once in a while a marketing campaign comes along that really connects with the audience and causes an increase in sales.  We’d all like to create these kinds of marketing campaigns.

So – if you really want to rise above the clutter and create a smash campaign – should you focus on data?  or should you say to heck with the data and trust your gut?

In a recent Ad Age Article – David Jones, CEO of Global Agency Euro gave his answer to this questions:

Taking a "swipe at the research and pre-testing industry," Mr. Jones exhorted listeners to stop asking permission. Drawing on a "truth" from British comedian Vic Reeves that "96.2% of all statistics are made up," Mr. Jones — also a Brit — argued that some of the most well-liked ads aren’t based on research or focus-group results. Instead they rely on a creative director’s gut instinct of what consumers will like.

Here’s where I start to get itchy all over.   Do you really want to rely on one creative director’s gut instinct of what consumers will like?   Really??

What happens when the creative director is a 30 something guy who’s been charged with creating a campaign for 50 something women?   What if it’s a 50 something guy who’s been charged with creating a campaign for teenage girls?    What if it’s a guy who’s never had kids charged with marketing to moms?   

To be fair here – what if it was a 40 something woman charged with creating a campaign for 18 year old guys?    (could happen, but probably far less likely than the scenarios above)

Before you get all huffy with me – I am not saying you must be a member of the target audience in order to create a campaign that resonates with them.    

Whenever I’m asked if a man or a woman should create your marketing campaign to women – I always say hire the best marketer – period – regardless of gender.

But what worries me is this "going off your gut" thing.   There are incredibly empathetic people out there that can just "grok" what their target audience is all about.   But people with that kind of talent are hard to find.   

Which brings us back to  – do you want a 30 year old guy going off his gut when he’s creating a campaign for 50-60 something women?    Do you know how absurd that sounds?    Do you know how arrogant that sounds?

If I’ve hired the girls at 3iying – an agency made up of 15-25 year old girls, and I’m targeting 15-25 year old girls – I may buy the "trust your gut on what consumers will like".   But even then – I want some proven strategy as to why this "gut instinct" is going to work.

Truth be told – I don’t even trust my gut.   My first foray into marketing to women was a disaster.  I wrote a commercial that appealed to me.  My gut said – "yeah – this is great".   The ad was aimed at women in my demographic, but the target audience was deconditioned women who didn’t work out.  I live at the gym.   It completely missed the mark because I trusted my insight instead of asking the target audience for theirs. 

That was one of the mot important lessons I learned in marketing to women – don’t make assumptions – don’t assume they’re all like you. 

If you’re willing to spend a week, a month, a year, a lifetime in your target audience’s shoes – THEN -trust your gut all you want.   But beware – some of the worst marketing to women I’ve seen probably came from someone’s "gut instinct."   

"No really – she’ll love this!   All women love this! Trust me!"

The minute you hear those words – be afraid – be very afraid.   

P.S. – lest you think basing all decisions on data is the correct answer – that’s not right either.  More on that soon.

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One Response to Should You Rely on Data or Your Gut

  1. YooLandaa says:

    Slice,I read your post with interest and agree that the dsviiion you are trying to define almost certainly exists. In addition, I believe you are suggesting that the Agile’ approach is superior to the Waterfall’ approach and there I would also be tempted to agree with you. There are still many marketers who believe that their role is to churn out a certain number of pre-defined activities for a fixed number of dollars and if they can tick those boxes then they have done a good job.However, I would raise two objections/discussion points in response to your post.Firstly, I am not convinced that every attribute expressed in your Waterfall vs. Agile profiles should belong exclusively to one and not the other. For example:Creative vs. AnalyticI think many would agree that creativity is an essential item in any marketer’s toolset, however this quality can be expressed in different ways. I would imagine that creativity for the Waterfaller could be described as artistic creativity, where perhaps the Agile equivalent might be expressed as creative problem solving instead. Similarly, Analytics’ abound in the wonderful world of the Web, but being able to sift through that data and divine appropriate actions based on the information gathered is where real boosts in performance can be made. Revised Waterfall attributes: artistic creativity; collation of dataRevised Agile attributes: creative problem solving; action-oriented analysisSecondly, I would also urge caution around an exclusively iterative approach to developing effective marketing strategies. I agree that this is a low-risk approach which can yield significant efficiencies and improvements in ROI, it should not exist in isolation of other more daring approaches. When Columbus set sail he was not executing an iterative process, but embarking on a risky and expensive foray into the unknown which eventually brought great rewards. There’s my two cents. Great post!

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