Imagine you’re sitting at a large conference room table. A team of creatives is presenting a new campaign for your brand.
As a marketer, you believe in the value of big ideas. But as you listen to the pitch, you pause to think: How do you know whether you are objective and open-minded? How can you be sure you pick the most effective idea? How do you prevent business pressures from clouding your thinking? How do you make decisions about creative ideas that maintain the right balance of emotion and logic?
In order to understand how to make better marketing decisions, let’s first quickly explore how creative people come up with new ideas in the first place. The parallel is enlightening.
The Creative Decision-Making Process
Every individual has a very personal and unique process for evaluating new ideas. But most creatives follow some common steps.
The first step, immersion, is where you soak in as much information as possible about a topic. You read and watch related content, books, and video, filling your well with more knowledge than you will ever use. I call it building up your supply of idea fodder. This part is all about data collection.
Next comes raw idea generation. Armed with all that information, you start to make new connections and combine data in interesting ways. Chances are, you will come up with derivative ideas. From a brain perspective, you are trying to logically think things through and make new connections. It’s the slow but necessary part of the process.
The incubation phase follows. This is when you completely walk away from the project. You sleep on it, take a long walk, or watch a movie to give your subconscious brain, or your fast system, a chance to process all the data and create more connections.
When we return to thinking about the project, suddenly the ideas come faster. All that subconscious thinking has ordered the data. Now when we think about it, we can more easily make associations and new connections—and hopefully get that big hit of inspiration where everything comes together. Eureka! We have our answer.
How This Helps Non-Creative Folks
The same process used to create an idea is just as valid when judging the idea. That’s right: If marketers use the creative process while making decisions about creative ideas, they’ll have a better chance at success.
Let’s revisit the story at the opening of this article, back to listening to a creative campaign pitch. Most marketers are making mental checklists and comparing the idea with previous expectations. They listen just long enough to understand the idea being presented.
But here’s the problem: Even if marketers react positively to an idea or new direction they hadn’t considered, they’ll quickly reject it because it doesn’t match previous expectations. Or they start worrying about how someone else would feel about it. They ignore their feelings and go the rational route. Emotions are weak and scary, right? We’re taught that a good decision maker has to quickly rank ideas and find the one that will make the biggest impact on the numbers.
This process is flawed. We are forcing our executive function to overcompensate and control our subconscious. We are pushing down our feelings and basing decisions on logic. But logic alone does not make us smart thinkers.
If we’ve learned anything from neuroscience, it’s that our subconscious thoughts expressed in emotion are a treasure trove of information. Psychologist Ap Dijksterhuis offers the following advice: “Use your conscious mind to acquire all the information you need for making a decision. But don’t try to analyze the information with your conscious mind. Instead, go on holiday while your unconscious mind digests it. Whatever your intuition then tells you is almost certainly going to be the best choice.”
That sounds a lot like the process for coming up with creative ideas. Imagine if you soaked up the presentation and data about the campaign. You listened with both your logical checklist and your emotions—and I mean really considered how you felt at every moment, focusing on your initial reaction as well as how you felt after the idea settled in.
Then, instead of making a decision right there in the meeting, you gave your subconscious a chance to process it. You closed the meeting, thanked the creative team, and went back to your office to focus on something else. Perhaps you got a full night’s sleep. When the time was right, you revisted your thoughts and feelings about the campaign. And you came to a different conclusion than you originally had. Or maybe you stuck with your original conclusion.
Regardless, here’s the takeaway: Big decisions require our emotions. Our gut. We need to access that wealth of data under the iceberg. Intuitive thinkers have mastered this process.
Author Jonah Lehrer offers an interesting perspective: “When an expert evaluates a situation, he doesn’t systematically compare all the available options or consciously analyze the relevant information. He doesn’t rely on elaborate spreadsheets or long lists of pros and cons. Instead, the expert naturally depends on the emotions generated by his dopamine neurons. His prediction errors have been translated into useful knowledge, which allows him to tap into a set of accurate feelings he can’t begin to explain. The best experts embrace this intuitive style of thinking. They have figured out how to take advantage of their mental machinery, to steal as much wisdom as possible from their inevitable errors.”
In essence, if you want to get better at making marketing decisions, you need to embrace intuitive thinking. When we encounter complex and challenging decisions, our emotions can help us more than we think. Take in all the data. Think it through for a while. Then take a break and let your subconscious process it all. Finally, come back to the decision and pay attention to both your emotions and your logical checklist.
By training yourself to be more intuitive, you might see new connections or experience a stronger feeling about one idea over the others. You’ll find that you not only feel more confident about a decision, but you also build up an expert marketing gut—a valuable asset that will help you throughout your entire career.