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February 8, 2011
Instinct (Art) vs. Research (Science)
As a classically trained package goods marketer, I am a believer in market research as a tool. And as an artist and veteran street-fighting ad guy, I rely heavily on my gut instinct, which has been proven over time. When the two conflict, I tend to believe the gut—and here’s why:

Forty-five minutes into a recent lunch conversation with a new client in the transportation business, I noted that the industry was commoditized, and that as marketers, they are engaged in the “confidence game.” The prospect, who himself has great instincts, noted a point of difference that supported my position. His point alone held the key to brilliant and differentiating positioning.

The integrated marketing plan was being written in my head before we finished our sandwiches. Subsequently, upon doing due diligence in the category, I found the abstract of an enormous research study which examined the existence and relative effectiveness of value propositions by 100 companies in that industry. It took me an hour to read the abstract! Some poor bastard had toiled over this document for months only to suggest that creative thought in this direction would be fruitful. Duh!

Another laughable research study was published recently by the venerable comScore organization. They can finally prove that ad campaigns that feature strong creative executions work up to four times better than that those with just a highly targeted media campaign. Double Duh!

Intuition and gut instinct are the raw materials of creativity. They provide the new direction that is necessary for innovation. Intuitive innovation is like looking out through windshield and reacting to race conditions—new developments in real time versus looking through the rearview mirror or examining tape.

Research has two distinct flaws. It either tells you with certainty what has already occurred, or it tells you how people may react, out of context, to something that hasn’t yet happened. Research has never come up with a good, original idea—but it certainly has killed them!

There certainly is a role for marketing research. It will, at times, provide the support and insurance you need to make tough decisions. Just be careful that it doesn’t take too long or that it doesn’t dissuade you from taking chances that will set you and your company apart in a very big way. And know that if you are looking for proof that something new will work, you won’t find it.

To you client-side marketers, my advice is to look for people with strong instincts. They will take you to places that are fresh and new. Those people are leaders. Their successes are game changers. 

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Brian Bennett is the President and Owner of Stir Advertising + Integrated Messaging in Milwaukee, WI. His career includes key positions at some of the top advertising agencies in the country, as well as marketing management positions at two Fortune 100 companies. The scope and diversity of these experiences helped shape Stir, and today provides ongoing benefits to the agency’s clients. 

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