Identifying and cultivating the intangible trait that leads to marketing success
From the start, the vibe and response to this marketing campaign was different. In spring 2013, Dove introduced a video called "Real Beauty Sketches," showing an FBI-trained forensic artist drawing women based on their own perceptions, and then another sketch based on that of a stranger who'd only briefly met one of the women but was asked to describe her. The sketches were put side by side and shown to the women and, in almost every case, revealed that the women had been harsher describing their appearance than the stranger's observations.
The video hit a nerve. Within 10 days, the viral video had 660,000 shares on Facebook, according to Adweek. Within a month, it had garnered more than 114 million total views. Business Insider said it was the most viral ad video of all time.
The marketers took a unique approach, with an intuitive sense of what the audience wanted to hear. You could call it a "sixth sense." And it's not just a complement to creating a marketing campaign – it's crucial.
3 ways to find your sixth sense
No. 1 – Get behind their brain
No. 2 – Notice the details
No. 3 – Articulate your emotions
"The sixth sense is important because it's what allows us to push our ideas from good to great," says Theresa McDonnell, executive VP, chief consumer strategist for Kaplow, a marketing and communications firm. "It makes room for risk, and therefore, great reward. It pushes the envelope and opens consumers up to new possibilities."
But is this ability innate? Or can it be developed?
The measure of memorable
Effective marketing campaigns sometimes can just mean being in the right place at the right time, but more often involve exhaustive research, polls, customer comments and the analytics to spit out numbers and data marketers can use.
Those are the kindle, but often it's the intangible "sixth sense" that provides the spark. "The sixth marketing sense is how the most memorable and effective marketing campaigns come to life," McDonnell says. "It doesn't rely solely on analytics. In fact, it sometimes goes against conventional wisdom. If a campaign gives me goose bumps and some butterflies in my stomach, then I know we've nailed it."
For example, when Kaplow first partnered with Skype to launch the brand in the United States, the first five senses – including all the research and analytics – were telling the team to focus on the new technology. "However, the sixth sense is what led to them using real consumer stories to introduce a new behaviour," McDonnell says. "It was changing people's lives by allowing them to communicate face to face even while they were thousands of miles apart. What could have been misunderstood as a complicated technology story quickly became a household name and new consumer behaviour adapted by millions of people from children and grandparents to celebrities, teachers and of course marketers."
Raj Raghunathan, Ph.D., a professor with the department of marketing at the University of Texas McCombs School of Business, says the sixth sense can be quantified to some extent through market research, but that the problem is that not all marketing decisions can be tested at all times.
Sometimes, a firm may have the time or resources to conduct market research. "Further, market research may also have a lot of limitations and flaws," Raghunathan says. "For example, directly asking customers what they want and like may not yield desirable results because they may not know what they want."
In an article for Psychology Today, Raghunathan examined a study that New York City officials asked anthropologist William Whyte to conduct regarding what citizens wanted out of building public spaces like city parks. The answers Whyte received for parks were similar – a pond, animals, places to see nature at its finest and get away from other people. But in actuality, people tend to gather in crowds at the popular features in parks.
This tells us two things about human nature, Raghunathan wrote: "First, we are social animals. Second, we often don't know what we really want."
Intuition is important because ultimately, the customers themselves may not have a good idea of what they want. "Thus, you need to get behind their brain, so to speak, to figure out the hidden needs and wants," says Raghunathan.
Growing your sixth sense
Unfortunately, this sixth sense comes in varying degrees in marketing. Some call it a rare commodity. "I believe very few people have a sixth sense," Raghunathan says. "Just like any other talent. Very few people are at the genius level in terms of music, sport or any other dimension."
Most marketers would agree that the sixth sense essentially is a skill. And like any other skill, it can be taught. "A large part of the skill has to do with being in touch with your emotions," Raghunathan says. "When you recognize what you like and what you don't, and you are able to articulate the reasons for your likes and dislikes, you will be better able to tune into others' likes and dislikes and their reasons for them. Thus, such "intra-psychic" intelligence is critical to having your fingers on the customers' pulse."
McDonnell says marketers are innately curious and very observant, and should use those traits to their advantage. "We often notice details other people don't – nuances in consumer behaviour, patterns in our everyday lives. Insights for marketing campaigns are often born this way. I don't think that can be taught."
Still, McDonnell believes the sense can be developed. "We are always evolving and maturing as we learn from our professional experiences. With that, we learn to trust the sixth sense and gain confidence to apply it more liberally."
McDonnell is skeptical that a brand can be successful without using the sixth sense, especially today when consumers are inundated with messages. "The sixth sense is disruptive, surprising and captivating. The brands that do it best are getting the most buzz."