Lenskold Article Series

by Jim Lenskold

Combining Analytic Discipline and Intuition for Success

There was once a television series called “Numb3rs.” Based on real cases, an FBI agent taps his math-genius brother who, in turn, uses probability, logic and complex equations to manipulate data and uncover information that helps the duo solve the crime. One brother delivers the disciplined analysis to uncover critical intelligence; the other provides the wisdom that puts the analysis into context. Together, they generate the insight necessary to solve that week’s wrongdoing.

Intuition—the act of knowing or sensing without the use of a rational process—represents our individual experiences blended together to represent what we “know” without understanding exactly why we know it. Everyone has intuition and everyone uses it from time to time, but what role should it play in business and marketing decisions?

Consider the best-selling book Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. Here you have countless insights derived from data analysis that go against conventional wisdom and intuition. The authors apply various forms of econometrics to crunch reams of data into meaningful conclusions: that swimming pools are a greater threat to children than handguns, for instance, and that the decrease in crime rates is driven primarily by the legalization of abortion. As the book implies, there is truth in the data that not only goes against what we might believe, it goes against what we truly want to believe.

In a research study conducted in conjunction with MarketingProfs.com, marketers were asked, “Which best describes your company’s typical approach to launching new marketing campaigns?” Of those surveyed, 47 percent reported that typically “campaigns are rushed to market based on the limited intuition of a few key people.” The other responses included the following:

  • “Campaigns are assessed against a large team’s intuitive knowledge” (24 percent)
  • “Campaigns’ creative/concepts are tested in qualitative research” (13 percent)
  • “Campaigns are first tested on a small segment of the target market audience for a quantitative assessment” (11 percent)

The responses don’t suggest whether the use of intuition is good or bad, but they reflect the prominent role intuition plays in the decision-making process.

I recommend to CMOs that they use three key principles to create a culture that values both disciplined analysis and intuition. First, make sure to balance strengths in intuition with the analytic and measurement capabilities necessary to uncover the hidden facts about customers, marketing impact and expected outcomes. As a rule, the marketing organization should have business intelligence and analytic experts who regularly interact in a two-way dialogue with their strategic counterparts. That way, the analytic team can benefit from the intuitive input that gives their findings context.

Next, assess the intuitive component of key marketing decisions. Ask yourself and your team what facts would validate or dispute your current direction. You want a culture that is ready to accept data even if it contradicts current beliefs. Understand how your marketing will ultimately lead to the achievement of business objectives and detail what metrics will be early indicators of remaining on track. In the absence of the necessary data, leverage the collective intuition of many qualified individuals with different perspectives, then capture data that will support similar decisions in the future.

Finally, improve your team’s intuition by sharing insight. Intuition comes from experience and knowledge. When you don’t share information about marketing success and failures, you can easily come to the wrong conclusions. Additional measurements and analysis are desperately needed within the marketing discipline. Bring together the analytics and insight to communicate information in the right context.

Companies that are fortunate enough to have a team of researchers and marketing analysts will often find that those individuals believe they are the unheard voice of the marketing organization. Yet these number-crunchers may just hold the key that can unlock huge marketing opportunities.

Can you build the collegial relationships that makes the Numb3rs team so successful? You’ll need mutual respect, an appreciation for a very different mind-set, the ability to listen to information and ideas that may go against either logic or intuition, and the willingness to sit down at the table together when you’ve solved the challenge of the day.

Copyright © 2005, CXO Media Inc., reprinted by permission from CMO Magazine.