Instincts are smart, argues researcher Gary Klein in his recently published Intuition at Work: Why Developing Your Gut Instincts Will Make You Better at What You Do, because they are "not accidental. They reflect your experience." To Klein, our intuition is based on pattern recognition and subtle clues from experience that we may be unable to articulate, but that inform our gut instincts. According to Dr. Steve Hymowitz, a New York psychotherapist specializing in hypnosis, these hundreds and thousands of life experiences accumulate in our unconscious, creating an intelligence that has the capacity to surpass conscious thought. He compares the conscious and subconscious mind to a computer. "The conscious mind-like a computer screen-can handle five to nine chunks of information at any given point. The unconscious can hold limitless information, like the hard drive of a computer. And literally everything that is stored can be accessed by hitting the right button."
Many legendary marketing campaigns came about because the final decision maker decided to trust his intuition. "If a strategy comes from the mind," says Maurice Lévy, chairman and CEO of Publicis Groupe, our parent company, "then ideas come from the guts." When MasterCard's "Priceless" campaign was first launched, its ads scored below average on USA Today's closely watched Ad Track consumer rating index. MasterCard's marketing chief Larry Flanagan, ignoring the research, persisted with the campaign. He instinctively knew that the commercials got to the heart of those values that money can't buy-values that he was convinced consumers felt were important. And his intuition was right. Eventually, the campaign gained traction, and the spots went on to become a huge hit, helping to narrow the gap between MasterCard and market leader Visa.
The change Volvo made in its advertising approach is another example of the wisdom of intuition. In the early 1980s, Bob Schmetterer, now CEO of global advertising agency Euro RSCG Worldwide, was the partner in charge of Volvo at Scali, McCabe, Sloves. At the time, says Schmetterer, Volvo was positioned as "a high-quality, well-built, last-forever kind of car." But Schmetterer, after doing some exploratory research, had a gut instinct that safety might be a better way for Volvo to appeal to its potential buyers. "We discovered a hidden reality. Most Volvos at that time were being bought by men, but they were being driven by women. We figured that women are very interested in safety, particularly if they have young children on board."
The conventional wisdom at the time, however, was that people don't buy cars based on safety. Instead, they choose cars based on sex appeal, power, or reliability. "Ford had tried back in the 1960s to sell cars on safety, by focusing on seatbelts, and it was a disaster," remembers Schmetterer. "The conventional wisdom was that people bought cars because they look great, they fit their personality, or they can afford them." Consequently, the people at Volvo were initially cool to Schmetterer's idea about safety. "But I pushed very hard," Schmetterer recalls. "I said, 'Listen. You've already developed a position based on how well built the car is. People already believe that. But safety is bigger. It's the ultimate end benefit of a well-built car.' "