Great marketers have great guts

grtmarkletingLeo Burnett didn’t need a legion of focus groups to come up with the Marlboro Man. Steve Jobs, arguably the greatest marketing mind ever, famously eschewed market research because he didn’t think customers knew what they wanted until he showed it to them.

In Blink, author Malcolm Gladwell argued that snap judgments are often superior to studied, rational responses and there is a wealth of serious research that supports that view. Antonio Damasio, a prominent neuroscientist, has shown that our biological response to information can often outpace our neurological recognition. In other words, gut feelings are very real.

Everybody in business today is struggling with data, but the challenges for marketers are especially daunting because there has been such an enormous shift in the amount and quality of data we work with. Historically, we only had backward looking surveys to guide us, but now we collect data in real time and can process it with amazing efficiency and precision.

too much data

Yet as powerful as they have become, computers are not all powerful, they perform much better when guided by humans. For example, in a freestyle chess tournament combining both humans and machines, the winner was not a chess master or a supercomputer, but two amateurs running three simple programs in parallel.

Leo Burnett was a magician. The Marlboro Man, The Pillsbury Dough Boy and the Keebler Elves—all characters he created—revolutionized his clients’ brands. Steve Jobs conjured up devices in his head that changed the world. Neither of them needed machines to tell them what to do.

Marketing technology does not mitigate the need for marketing guts, but it can help us tell the difference between an inspired idea and a bad lunch.

Greg Satell is a US based consultant who focuses on content marketing and digital innovation. You can find his blog at DigitalTonto.com and follow him on Twitter @DigitalTonto