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Following the Creative Instinct

Striking a balance between intuition and data

American Business lore is rife with anecdotes of the entrepreneur who followed his/her gut – against all of the odds and naysayers – built a multi-million dollar brand. But if gut instincts – or intuition- are also critical to achieving the American dream, you may ask why half of all new businesses fail within five years and three-quarters of venture-capital backed start-ups never return capital to their investors?

The reason is that despite overwhelming evidence that outcomes improve when decision-makers engage in a more deliberative, data-driven process, we continue to base our decisions on quick, automatic and intuitive processes commonly referred to as “gut instinct.” Given the highly competitive and fast-moving nature of the marketplace, this shouldn’t be surprising. Marketers often have to make decisions on the fly, particularly online, where the best opportunities may only last a few hours.

This makes it essential for market strategists to recognize that when they are acting on instinct, how reliable it is and when they should supplement their intuition with a more deliberate decision-making process.

Creative assessment is a subtle blend of art and science, heart and mind. Since this delicate and critical balance is not often taught, business leaders often make decisions relying on one side of their brain without the benefit of the other.

In their 2004 paper “When should I trust my gut?”, Eugene Sadler-Smith and Erella Shefy noted that intuition comes from knowing and sensing. The former, or “intuition-as-expertise”, comes from knowledge and experience, and can improve with time. The latter, or “intuition-as-feeling” is driven by emotions such as fear that may be irrational and hard to control. While instinct may tell you the growing availability of data analytics are diminishing the role of intuition, Sadler-Smith and Shefy argue intuition provides mental short-cuts that business leaders can use to rapidly process a growing torrent of data and make decisions more efficiently.

This may explain why CEOs and successful entrepreneurs continue to list good instincts as one of their top reasons for their success. But not everyone should trust their instincts, says Paul Schwada, a managing partner at Locomotive Solutions and author of “8 Blocks: The Critical Realties fro Growing Any Business.”

Even those with good instincts – which isn’t really some inherent magic, but is usually the product of years of experience and careful analysis of what works and why – they can’t just trust their gut all of the time or entirely. When we’re thinking about growth, we’re often tempted by our gut – “I feel like we need to get to 20 million” – a framework can lead us to consider the the critical angles, and shows us where we might need to acquire more information and which data support critical assumptions.

Three Steps to Finding the Balance.

Finding the balance between instinct and data is one of the biggest challenges facing marketers today. To help our clients navigate through the creative process, Grady Campbell follows a three-step process. The first step is to share the initial instinct with the creative team. Next, we suggest laying the creative aside to spend 15 to 30 minutes reviewing the objectives. Next, we take a second look at the creative to make sure that the creative is on-point. Ask if it embodies the brand’s personality and tone, and fulfills the directive laid out in the creative brief. It’s imperative to be analytical at this point in order to make an objective assessment. In the final step, we imagine the execution of the creative campaign to determine what practical issues might emerge in regard to logo colors, trademarks, packaging design, etc. Precision and an acute attention to detail is most important in this final step in order to be successful.

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