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. “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? Can it be developed?
“I believe very few people have a sixth sense. Just like any other talent. … A large part of the skill has to do with being in touch with your emotions.”
– Raj Raghunathan, Ph.D., Professor, University of Texas McCombs School of Business
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 need to figure out what product “look” or “color scheme” to go with, or what particular marketing mix variables (price, promotion, etc.) to go with because of time pressure or because of budget constraints. They may not 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 behavior, 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.”