October 31, 2012

This article was first published as a guest post on Prall Marketing’s “The Big Itch” on April 17, 2012.

Webster’s defines intuition as “the immediate knowing of something without the conscious use of reasoning.” AKA, gut instinct derived from common sense, practical experience, and a general appetite for paying attention.

So why is it, in today’s fast-paced, reactionary and ever-changing business climate that intuition has been replaced with a CYA-mantra? Why now, when more than ever we need strategic intuition to drive competitive advantage?

A year ago I attended Ad Age’s Small Agency Conference, where I heard a comment I’ve thought about on more than a few occasions since. I’m pretty sure I can’t repeat verbatim what the speaker said, but the basic idea was this:  by the time you read some statistic, or data point, or industry trend, it’s already outdated.

My interpretation: facts and figures may be valuable to have, but they are no substitute for a well-defined vision and strategic decision-making when driving innovation or establishing market leadership.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a firm believer that insight (in the form of either qualitative or quantitative) is an invaluable tool for today’s marketers. It helps us understand the needs, wants, perceptions and behaviors of our audiences. But even the most compelling and in-depth insight cannot make up for lack of strategic intuition. Especially at crunch time.

So what role should intuition play in business decision-making? I suppose that depends on your appetite for risk and your desire to distinguish yourself – either by being first to market or by being more creative when you get there.

A general rule of thumb for most businesses is this:  if you have a solid foundation of audience insight (ongoing, and preferably some combination of qualitative and quantitative information) then intuition functions as the final filter for decision-making; the grain that tilts the scale in one direction or another.

Intuition without insight is guessing, and insight without intuition is just yesterday’s data. But together they enable companies to be confident in all types of decisions, especially thelast minute ones.

At the end of the day, our intuition hardly ever fails us, and it’s one tool in our marketing tool box that our competitors don’t have.