BrainTrust Query: Loss Of Emotion Leads To Indecision

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Apr 26, 2010
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Commentary by Richard Phillips, Managing Partner, Arámbula-Phillips Communications

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is an excerpt from a current article from the Arámbula-Phillips Communications blog.

Without emotion you can’t decide. Yet most people think they are rational beings that make decisions in a calculated, rational manner. Jonah Lehrer’s best-selling book, How We Decide, turns all this on its head. The key point of the book is how loss of emotion leads to indecision. And how humans really make decisions driven by emotion rather than rational thinking.

In How We Decide, Mr. Lehrer initially debunks the myth that all decision-making can be rational. He points to intelligent people becoming virtually unable to make the most trivial decisions when their capacity for feelings is flattened as a result of brain disease or trauma. But the core of the book is spent exploring how emotions impact decision making in positive as well as negative ways. For instance, one topic probed is “Loss Aversion,” or the propensity of the human brain to register bad news more strongly than good.

In exploring “Negativity Bias,” Mr. Lehrer explains why in the average marital relationship it takes five compliments to make up for a single negative remark. At the same time, he illustrates many instances when emotions or “gut feelings” led to the right – albeit irrational – decision. The conclusion: better understanding of emotions can lead to better decision-making.

In an interview on Amazon.com, Mr. Lehrer said advances in neuroscience are finally revealing the role emotions play in decision-making.

Whenever we make a decision, the brain is awash in feeling, driven by its inexplicable passions,” said Mr. Lehrer. “Even when we try to be reasonable and restrained, these emotional impulses secretly influence our judgment. Of course, by understanding how the human mind makes decisions–and by learning about the decision-making mistakes that we’re all vulnerable to–we can learn to make better decisions.”

There’s been a lot of work in this area, but I found Mr. Lehrer’s book an interesting read while communicating key findings in neuroscience and the how and why of emotion being such a crucial component of decision-making, and indirectly, marketing.

I’ve always been keen about connecting science to the need of having to create “an emotional connection” or “emotional end benefit” with consumers in order to sell effectively. Mr. Lehrer details how emotion is indispensable in helping humans make sense of the “helter skelter” of everyday life. Consumers seek out brands, even when they think they are not, because brands make it easier to decide at the supermarket or dealership. No doubt, this is obvious, yet what’s important here is the scientific rationale clearly linking emotions to decision making, in every area of life. So, it is science making the case that branding and marketing are required and not optional.

Discussion Questions: How big a role do you think emotions play in decision-making? Are emotions a key purchase driver for most brands or only a select few? How are emotions tied to branding and marketing?

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16 Comments on "BrainTrust Query: Loss Of Emotion Leads To Indecision"


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Max Goldberg
Guest
11 years 9 days ago

The thought that emotions play a strong role in decision making and purchasing is not new. It’s been around for years. Marketers have been using emotions to sell products for decades. Brands come to life when they tell a story and satisfy a consumer’s emotional needs.

Bob Phibbs
Guest
11 years 9 days ago

In my new book The Retail Doctor’s Guide To Growing Your Business (Wiley) I talk about the four personalities and how they work in response to being sold. The crucial thing missing in the marketplace today is CMOs and CEOs seem to only talk to the Analytical personality as if buying were a rational exercise. They quote web research and coupon redemptions as manna from heaven. Trouble is, that is only 30% of the population. What about the rest of us? Studying selling is inextricably linked to psychology. Instead of telling ourselves we understand it and put it in a bottle, we need to remember emotions of both seller and customer are linked, not isolated.

David Zahn
Guest
11 years 9 days ago

One of the best pieces of advice I have ever been given was, “people make emotional decisions for logical reasons.” If people are not engaged, curious, interested, etc. – there will be no impetus to move forward.

Shopper Marketing is in large measure ABOUT the emotional aspects. While both must be in place (Logic and Emotion); the greater draw is the emotional. Otherwise, there would be less emphasis on brands, less focus on advertising, no significant thrust around marketing.

Steve Montgomery
Guest
11 years 9 days ago

I agree that emotions play a role in decision making. The issue is how much a role in which decisions. I would like to believe people make “larger” decisions based more on rational thinking than emotion, but have no evidence that is the case.

I also agree with Mr. Goldberg that marketers have been using emotion to sell products for some time whether or not they understood the science involved. Confirmation of this is simply to look at some of the great ads in the past. They were not based on reason, but emotion.

Ian Percy
Guest
11 years 9 days ago
In many ways the knee-jerk response to a discussion about whether or not emotions play a big part in decision-making is ‘duh’. Heck, imagine if consumers bought only what they actually ‘need’. 98% of retailers would be out of business. Every decision above “need” is based on emotion. Trigger the emotion connected to your product or service and you ring up a sale. But let’s be clear; there is a difference between “emotion” and “gut feelings.” I equate gut feelings to “intuition.” Choosing to have Cinnabon at the airport is an emotional decision aroused by the smell, etc. No one says “I had an intuitive feeling that I should have a Cinnabon.” OK – one time I did but that was a special case. Choosing which of two equally qualified candidates to hire is based on intuition. Intuition is a signal gifted to you by your subconscious mind. The subconscious mind is how we connect to universal mind and intelligence like a radio connects to radio waves to make them audible. Your subconscious makes higher… Read more »
Bill Emerson
Guest
Bill Emerson
11 years 9 days ago

Considering that humans are emotional creatures, there is an emotional element to all purchase decisions. While grossly simplifying a very complex question, the more the purchase reflects on the individual, the more emotional it is. This includes self-image as well as perceived external image. As an example, buying a car is an emotional decision bound by a rational decision (what car best represents me that I can afford?). Buying gas for the car is a purely rational decision (it won’t run without it).

This ratio varies widely based on what’s being purchased. Apparel, for instance, is heavily emotional as demonstrated by the popularity of $400 denim jeans with a landed cost of around $20 – hardly a rational decision. Every brand, however, needs to identify what level of emotion plays into the purchase decision and build on that emotion. Otherwise, the decision becomes completely about convenience and price. The best example of success here is Starbucks.

Kevin Graff
Guest
11 years 9 days ago

If someone can successfully sell a book on how ’emotions are the key to buying’ then we should all get to work on writing books on obvious things such as ‘when I turn the key my car starts!’, or ‘my two year old throws tantrums to get his way!’. I’m not knocking the book or author. In fact, good for him to point out this ‘must / should know’ fact and back it up with research. Hopefully it gets everyone in retail (marketers, store designers, training departments) to focus on this simple but powerful key to enticing consumers to buy in your stores.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
11 years 9 days ago

Half of our decisions in life rise from feeling where we ought to think, and thinking where ought to feel. Thus, as consumers, we frequently run the whole gamut of emotions from A to Z, overwhelm our objective thought, and choose A.
Whoever buys a car that didn’t appeal to their emotions?

Doron Levy
Guest
Doron Levy
11 years 9 days ago

Emotion is how certain retail empires were built! If you can create some sort of positive emotional response with the customer, you can get them to buy anything. That’s why retailers have impulse sections, promo racetracks, signage, blocked merchandising techniques etc. Even a fully faced up and stocked store will create positive emotional responses which can fuel the buying decision. Take out the emotion and your customer will instantly feel that and that will influence the buying decision negatively. So get out there and show some love.

Mel Kleiman
Guest
11 years 9 days ago

The buying decision that my retail clients deal with every day is who they hire, train, develop, keep, promote and let go. Most of them think these are rational decisions, but it has been proven time and time again that most managers make the hiring decision in less than 14 seconds and whatever they feel in that first 14 seconds they will go on to prove themselves right.

Average retail turnover is over 50% in just the first six months. So if retail managers are supposed to be rational in making a decision and they have such poor success, how successful do you think the customer is at making rational decisions?

On the subject of gut feel – if ones gut feel says don’t do something I would suggest not doing it. If ones gut feel says to do something I would doubt it.

Herb Sorensen
Guest
11 years 9 days ago
It’s excellent having this discussion, but odd, too, that there is a continuing need for it. After all, eMOTION is what moves you–that is, leads to action. And yet, a very large amount of thinking about the purchase process–by marketers–is all about cognitive issues and rationality. This has led to one of the most serious (and costly) marketing mistakes: giving price much too large a role in selling. The reason for this excessive focus on price is of course its obvious relation to bank deposits, at the end of the day. And if you ask shoppers about the role of price, they will always give it a large role, when in fact it usually plays little or no role. (Except for a tiny slice of predatory shoppers that distort the entire process.) Everyone thinks of themselves as rational, so if you are explaining your purchase to an interviewer, even though there is a very good chance you have only the vaguest understanding of your own behavior, price becomes a convenient “rational” crutch. Who’s going to… Read more »
Doug Garnett
Guest
Doug Garnett
11 years 9 days ago

It is interesting to view the contradiction the comments and the survey results reveal.

The survey results clearly show that this group believes emotions are primary. And the comments suggest this group believes marketers think the opposite. Not in my experience. Most marketers have been thoroughly trained in “emotions are everything” thinking.

Except I think this is wrong. As a salesman, I was trained & found my success selling both–selling “heart & mind.” And I find marketers err repeatedly by failing to appeal to the “mind,” preferring to try to overwhelm their prospect with emotion.

Perhaps what’s hard is that effectively appealing to the mind means far more than “features” and “benefits.” It means finding the rationale that makes this purchase “smart.” And this is a very difficult discipline–far harder than creating “emotional communication” that has little to do with the truth about the consumer’s life and the product.

The BIGGEST success is found by marketers who discover how to do both: get people emotionally engaged with the product while also delivering a smart rationale.

Christopher P. Ramey
Guest
11 years 9 days ago

Emotion is the platform for living. Luxury products and most brands wouldn’t exist without it. Emotion that manifests into preference is what marketers are supposed to be creating.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
11 years 9 days ago

An earlier comment stated “people make emotional decisions for logical reasons.” I agree with that. I also think there is a defined difference between an emotional, logical and gut decision. Most emotional decisions are centered on a persons personal needs or wants. The logical decisions can play a role because certain factors such as finance enter in as a significant factor. I may want that Lexus; and certainly my wife deserves to drive a quality automobile such as a Lexus. But that does not mean I can afford to purchase it. By the way, we bought the Lexus because my emotion accepted the logical explanation that she deserved to have it.

The “gut” decision making process has some emotion interspersed in the brain’s processing. Logic is another ingredient mixed in to the decision based on “gut.” But I think experience is the over riding factor when one says a decision was made by a “gut feeling.”

Another person’s opinion.

Bernice Hurst
Guest
11 years 9 days ago

Conversely, excessive emotion can lead to total indecisiveness and mental paralysis. Did no one involved in the study look at that angle?

Joel Warady
Guest
Joel Warady
11 years 9 days ago

Human beings are powered by emotion, not by reason. As Donald Calne, a noted neurologist pointed out, “the essential difference between emotion and reason is that emotion leads to action, while reason leads to conclusions.”

If you want people to take action, Emotion is Everything!

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