The intuitive insight

Just because data and analysis are easier to come by does not mean they should replace ‘the inner voice’ when making business decisions, says Aidan Bocci

In a recent interview, Diageo chief executive officer Paul Walsh said the worst mistake most chief executives make is “not trusting their intuition. In this world where analysis and IT is all around us, I think we become, sometimes, over-dependent on the data and, in so being, we neglect that inner voice – that voice of intuition. Yes, you need data, you need analysis but you also need that inner voice.”

The same could be said of many marketing directors, who seem to be in a cult of data analysis, which, far from helping them make good decisions, can hold them back.

About 20 years ago there was a lack of data, so many agencies set themselves up to supply market data to clients to enable them to make informed decisions. Data analysis has become like a drug and many marketers have far too much information at their disposal, yet they are still convinced by marketing agencies and management consultants that they need more to ensure they make the best business decisions.

The simple truth, however, is that given too much information, the brain cannot cope. Our brains have developed in such a way that we are able to look at a situation and effectively “best guess” based on what we perceive to be the key criteria; we do not need swathes of data to make decisions as it distracts us from the job in hand. Take catching a ball. If you were to analyse this you would have to take into account multiple factors: trajectory, speed, wind, drag coefficient, the mass of the ball and so on. In reality, we make an intuitive decision by working out the angle between the eye and the ball and, on balance, we catch it.

If you look at the average marketing director’s budget, they spend a vast amount on consumer research. Many have become risk-obsessed because of the necessity to hit short-term targets and heavily rely on data analysis to allay senior management fears and “prove” they are making the right decisions. By continuing to provide this analysis, agencies and consultancies are simply preying on the insecurities of the marketing leaders they supply, but this is fundamentally the wrong thing to do for their clients. No matter how much data a client has, if they don’t understand how to make the right decisions then it is useless.

By breaking the analytical mould, marketers start to rely on the different components of a decision, rather than just the data. They also realise they can start to make decisions very quickly, which means they can act very quickly, and by doing so are also learning quickly. You don’t learn through thinking about things and analysing the data, you learn by doing them and seeing whether they work. If you want a successful business outcome you have to try it. You can’t sit around theorising.

Ideally, agencies need to stop offering analysis and offer insight instead. Insight doesn’t come from the data, it comes from understanding the thought process that underlies a great decision. Marketers who are focused on business outcomes are looking for agencies that add value by working with them to help them build brands, transform customer relationships and fundamentally change how they work together to deliver sustainable growth.

If agencies really want to change they need to ask themselves: “From what we do every day, what business outcomes were delivered that were derived through us?” If they’ve done 100 projects over the course of a year, how many really and truthfully delivered an effective business result? Agencies need to look at those ones and see what made the difference, and shape the way they deal with their clients through their successes rather than their product sell.

Essentially marketers and agencies tend to focus their creativity around strategy. In reality value is delivered when creative efforts are focused on execution. It’s rarely strategy that’s the problem, yet strategy gets blamed when in fact we should be fixing the execution. You can’t do that stuck in a room talking about it, you need to get out there and see how people react.

By breaking free from the chains of data analysis you can make decisions and act quickly. Once you act you start to execute and eventually you become highly creative in execution. This means marketing and ad agencies are going to provide better creative work because they are more in touch with brands and consumers.

Aidan Bocci is chief executive of Commercial Advantage

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