Data vs. Intuition: The Other Superhero Battle


Every summer, Hollywood releases a glut of comic book movies, pitting our favorite do-gooders against encroaching evil forces. While Suicide Squad recently toyed with this trend, pushing supervillains into the role of city saviors, it still reached the climax of most summer blockbusters: a group of supermen facing off against a faceless, never-ending horde of evildoers.

But two recent comic book movies (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Captain America: Civil War) avoided this trope, opting instead for an intriguing storyline of good vs. good. It made me wonder: how can such noble defenders of justice be at odds with one another?

It kind of reminds you of the marketing battle between data and intuition. Both good, yet somehow doing battle across boardrooms and ad agencies the world over. On the one hand, you have passionate creatives, whose ideas flow from some inner muse that assures them their ideas will connect with an audience. On the other hand, you have equally passionate, spreadsheet-toting analysts who can explain audience behavior based on big data.

It’s Intuition Man vs. Captain Data!

Intuition Man’s fans will tell you that great ideas and creative intuition existed long before data came along to guide decision-making. Intuitives believe that innovation and original ideas are key—after all, as Steve Jobs famously said, “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

However, Captain Data’s cohorts will quickly point to the newfound precision that vast data enables, reminding the Intuitives that the dark ages of guesswork are finally over. In fact, Captain Data can test creative such that it becomes just another quantifiable variable.

Intuition Man will defend his followers who know that all the data in the world won’t inspire breakthrough creative. Was Apple’s 1984 commercial driven by data? Do Budweiser’s puppy commercials tug at the left brain or the right brain (or the heart)?

The easy way out of course is to say you need both—data and intuition—when it comes to successful marketing. To choose one over the other is like choosing which wing of the Boeing 777 you’re flying in you’d be willing to forego.

No, the real challenge comes in finding just the right balance of the two. It requires a willingness for those wired to be either data-driven or intuition-driven to suspend assumptions long enough to see how their perspective stands up to the scrutiny of the other. Like Batman v Superman or the heroes of Civil War, only when these two forces work together will they be able to make the most difference.

In practical terms, the blending of intuition and data means measuring response to creative ideas via focus groups, user testing, variable-test campaigns and other tools. For the data-driven among us, the trick is to realize that data can answer many questions, but not all of them; and that the best data-driven marketing will always require originality and relevance in the creative.

So, can Captain Data and Intuition Man join forces to save the world from bad marketing?

As they say in the comics, “To be continued…”

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