Search Marketing & Intuition

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The dichotomy of creative thinking (right brain) versus analytical thinking (left brain), although technically not as divided as they seem, is especially important for marketing analysts. As a data-driven marketer, I’ve come to learn that it’s possible and important to be what I like to call a right-brain analyst. In fact, today it is becoming increasingly important for analysts to get in touch with their creative side. Internet consumers use intuition and sensing to inform their buying habits. Shouldn’t we be using both in search marketing?

Intuition and sensing are terms that describe how we process information. In Web design, intuition and sensing embody usability and the processes that allow users to frolic effortlessly, albeit instinctually and efficiently, through a website. Intuitive consumers pay more attention to impressions; what are the possibilities of the website or product and how does it make them feel? Sensing consumers search for practicality and the bottom line; will the product be useful and cost effective?

Although we all use sensing and intuition in our data-gathering processes, the vast majority of people are sensing dominant. This serves most search analysts well because SEO relies heavily on left-brain sensing. Unfortunately, a strictly sensing approach to Web design and marketing isolates about 30 percent of the consumer pool. In true lyrical fashion, it turns out that some users are hooked on a feeling. But how can we leverage intuition effectively in SEO when it is so obviously subjective?

In a 2012 TED talk on intuitive intelligence, corporate advisor and best-selling author Francis Cholle posed an interesting theory on how intuition can be leveraged: Creative and innovative business development requires unconscious thinking.

I’m sensing a lot of head scratching going on out there, so let’s dig in.

The thing about conscious mental activity is that it can only take you where you know you are. The unconscious mind, however, serves as a colossal repository for ideas, accounting for 80 percent of the human intelligence equation. It is where creativity and innovation come from. What we call intuitive decision making is really just the mind’s ability to unconsciously detect patterns at lightning speed.

Users must be able to detect these patterns also. This is difficult to do when a site exhibits poor SEO and when marketing integration between in-store, online, and mobile shopping channels is far from seamless. As search marketers it is our job to create the circumstances that allow users to respond intuitively. But how can this be a realistic expectation when it is so deeply embedded in us to function from the analytical side? How can we bridge the gap between our school-taught rational minds and the vast majority of our intelligence known as intuition?

I’m a huge fan of the sensing quantitative data-based approach to Web design and tend to prefer using data to measure user interactions and to support my own decision making. Having said this, I must admit I’d be hugely remiss to not also factor in the intuitive data collected through qualitative user-interaction studies. Becoming a right-brain analyst is therefore synonymous with establishing strategies that implement both an intuitive and data-driven approach to search marketing.

As search marketers we are ultimately results-driven. We strive for efficiency; our boardrooms are festooned with logical conversations that lay claim to points a, b, and c. Although statistically speaking we believe creativity to be the No. 1 leadership competency of the future, most businesses often neglect to leverage creativity, an offshoot of intuition, in the processes that determine ROI. Sadly, the success metric bubble typically only gauges the effectiveness of conversion and revenue, completely neglecting the impact of non-promotional content on organic search authority.

I believe the intersection of intuitive marketing and search first happens at a strategic level, by asking behavioral segmentation questions. Will our customers resonate more with intuitive messaging or do they just want the data, the discount, the facts? And are strategies in place to appeal to both audiences? Search messaging in the B2B world incorporates more of a sensing spin, while B2C generally tilts toward an intuitive spin.

Ford and Toyota have great examples of ads utilizing a sensing or intuitive spin. I can’t say whether or not they are employing this psychologically-based behavioral targeting strategy specifically, or if they intuitively came up with it!


Example of sensing approach that appeals to the data-based buyer persona.


Example of intuitive approach that appeals to feeling-based buyer persona.

The final word:  As left-brain analysts we must find ways to integrate a sense of play into our work; to allow creativity to enter our technical, results-orientated processes. Asking people outside of our industry what they think and asking consumers how they feel are key to leveraging creativity in a data-driven environment. Our brainstorming sessions must take us away from efficiency-only rules into the realm of “what ifs” and “how abouts.” Above all, we must learn to be right-brain analysts, viewing the analytical and creative sides of our businesses holistically, which is to say the same way that users view them.

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