Most people recognize the power of emotion, when it comes to rites of passage such as births, marriages and death. But the influence of emotion over everyday consumer and business decisions is less well appreciated. Research shows however that an overwhelming majority of consumers choose what they want to buy because it appeals to them on an emotional level, even if they think they are making a decision based on logic. For companies that work out how best to tap into their customers’ psyche, this can be a real opportunity to stand out from their peers.​

VIEWPOINT

In 1997, when Apple welcomed back Steve Jobs, it was a failing company with a sinking stock price and a poor public image. By 1998, he had returned the business to profitability – not through innovation alone – but through an emotionally charged advertising campaign, ‘Think different’. A variation of rival IBM’s ‘Think’ slogan, the campaign paired Apple products with iconoclasts including Amelia Earhart, Gandhi and Picasso. The message transmitted was simple but effective: when you buy Apple, you do not just choose a different sort of hardware. You choose to make a break from the status quo.  Apple did not look back. Along with companies such as Lexus and Harley-Davidson, it now had a cult-like following, after creating products and ad campaigns that appealed to consumers on an emotional level.

Research confirms that the success of this emotion-based marketing is no fluke. Recent studies of human psychology and neuroscience reveal that when it comes to consumer decision-making, emotion trumps logic almost every time. Not that buyers are always aware of it.

Only connect

Harvard Business School professor Gerald Zaltman, author of How Customers Think: Essential Insights into the Mind of the Market, estimates that 95 per cent of purchase decision-making takes place in the unconscious mind. Even if consumers say that they spend time comparison-shopping, for instance, their actual behaviour reveals otherwise.  “Often they don’t look at alternatives to the chosen brand. Even if they do go through the motions of deliberation, the decision itself was often decided before the process even began,” he says. 

According to Zaltman and other researchers in his field, the subconscious, pre-chosen brand is usually the one that has been the most successful at connecting with the consumer on an emotional level. Studies using advanced neuro-imagery techniques reveal that when subjects were asked to evaluate brands, they primarily activated parts of their brains associated with personal feelings and experiences, rather than the locations associated with dissecting information, such as features, facts and product specifications. These findings have even given rise to a new field of marketing called neuromarketing, which uses a form of MRI technology to predict consumer behaviour.

The evidence that emotion plays a key role in decision-making has become accepted wisdom for marketers, but it is a phenomenon that has long been known in neuroscience circles. University of Southern California (USC) neuroscientist Antonio Damasio discovered through his studies that people who sustained brain damage in the parts of the brain associated with emotions found themselves unable to make even the smallest of practical decisions, like what to eat for lunch or what to wear. His research indicates that emotion is not just part of the decision-making process, it is the bedrock of the process.​

 

 VIEWPOINT

All in
the mind

All in the mind

Chicken test

“Emotions are super-important,” agrees Raj Raghunathan, professor of marketing at University of Texas McCombs School of Business. “Even if people aren’t comfortable admitting to it.” When asked to give examples of the divide between emotional and rational decision-making, he often gives the example of two chickens. In one study, Raghunathan showed participants two photos. One was of a healthy, plump-looking chicken. The other was a picture of a thin, sickly looking chicken. The stark difference between the aesthetics of the two was intended to force a visceral reaction.Researchers then informed half of the participants that the sickly looking chicken was “tastier, but not healthy” while the plump chicken was “healthy, but not tasty”. A second group of participants was given the opposite information – the plump chicken was “tasty, but not healthy,” while the sickly chicken was “healthy, but not tasty”.

Perhaps not surprisingly, nearly all participants in the study chose the plump-looking chicken as their meal of choice. While that in and of itself may not be surprising, what stood out to Raghunathan was that each group arrived at the same conclusion, while rationalising the decision entirely differently. The first group claimed that health was more important than taste, while the other group said the opposite. Both groups were willing to adopt any rationale to justify arriving at the same, emotion-based conclusion.

Looking good

This is called “post-hoc realisation,” says Raghunathan. It is the practice of using the pretence of logic to justify emotional decisions. We do it in hiring, we do it in dating and we especially do it in buying. The question becomes, for businesses looking to capture the psychology of the consumer, how do we bring emotions into products and services?

Many companies, says Raghunathan, are starting to hone in on the idea from a few angles. One approach is to devote more time and resources to greeting consumers with an emotionally appealing aesthetic. Companies are essentially trying to make themselves “plump chickens” in the marketplace. Airbnb for example, focused on design and aesthetics when it launched its website. By offering a more pleasing website than its competitor, HomeAway, it managed to capture the home-sharing market. Apple and Google are other examples of companies that pioneered a clean, modern aesthetic and turned an inviting appearance into a brand virtue that connects with users’ emotions.

What’s the story?

Brands can also imbue their products and services with emotion through storytelling. Swiss watchmaker Patek Philippe exemplifies this approach. Part of the Patek Philippe story is that the luxury watch you buy is not just for yourself; it is for your children and your children’s children. Buying a Patek Philippe watch is, essentially, investing in your legacy. While this story alone may be powerful enough to compel consumers to purchase, the company has taken an extra step. Patek Philippe engineered the brand story into the product itself. The company’s watches are designed to mark leap years and other calendar changes that only take place every 100 years or so, so you can be sure they will run accurately for generations. The company has woven its story into the product and created a full emotional experience for the consumer.

Stories are powerful drivers of consumer choice, but not all stories are equal, from a business standpoint. According to a recent Harvard Business School study, there are 10 main emotional motivators, or narrative stories, that are particularly likely to drive consumer choice. These motivators are essential stories that customers want to tell about themselves, and which they feel they can achieve through interacting with a product or service. Patek Philippe and its story of creating an impressive enduring legacy, for example, may tie into one of the key motivators, “Be successful”.

Unlocking potential

Other motivators include “Stand out from the crowd” (which Apple keyed into years ago), “Have confidence in the future,” “Protect the environment,” “Feel a thrill” “Feel a sense of freedom” and “Be the best person I can be”. 

These motivators are so powerful and consistent that consumers across the world and all walks of life respond to them. As Harvard Business School explains: “A company doesn’t have to be born with the emotional DNA of Disney or Apple to succeed.” By tracking and appealing to these high-impact motivators, “Even a cleaning product or a canned food can forge powerful connections.” Green household cleaner company The Honest Company, for example, used the “Protect the environment” motivator to create a billion-dollar company.

When brands are able to hit on these motivators, studies indicate that the returns keep coming. Simply put, consumers who associate products with one or more of the 10 main motivators are more likely to stick with a business in the long run.

“Emotionally connected customers are more than twice as valuable as highly satisfied customers. These emotionally connected customers buy more of your products and services, visit you more often, exhibit less price sensitivity, pay more attention to your communications, follow your advice, and recommend you more – everything you hope their experience with you will cause them to do,” a Harvard Business School report suggests.

Business to business

Consumer-facing businesses may need to be mindful of their customers’ emotions. But what about B2B marketing, where customers are theoretically acting in a more pragmatic and less explicitly personal way?

Again, studies show that while the emotional decision-making effects may be slightly muted when it comes to B2B purchases, they are still present.One study conducted by insight and technology company CEB showed that when making B2B decisions, 71 per cent of respondents said that working with a business that provided “personal value” was even more important than working with one that provided “business value”. They were also twice as likely to be repeat customers.

Personal value may be harder to define in the B2B arena but Raghunathan suggests that it may, again, come down to storytelling. What value was transmitted about the service provided? How was the customer made to feel about their business? Here, authenticity and transparency can help to create a satisfying and emotional story. Crucially too, the customer needs to feel that he or she is playing an important role. 

As in any other consumer scenario, B2B companies can derive genuine benefits from making an emotional connection early. “The earlier you make the emotional connection the better, because once consumers have decided they like a particular option, the more difficult it is for them to backpedal. Their thinking falls in line with the emotions. In the end, the decision-makers in B2B contexts are also people – not machines!” says Raghunathan.

He does note one caveat. In B2B contexts, business purchases are made in groups or teams, and studies show that individual emotions – while important – become less highly weighted in such scenarios. “That said,” says Raghunathan “decision-making teams are composed of people, so emotions will still matter – just a little less.” 

Back to articles

 

Emotionally connected customers are more than twice as valuable as highly satisfied customers”​

There are 10 main emotional motivators, or narrative stories, that are particularly likely to drive consumer choice”​

Ninety-five per cent of purchase decision-making takes place in the unconscious mind. Even if consumers say that they spend time comparison-shopping, their actual behaviour reveals otherwise”​

When making B2B decisions, 71 per cent of respondents said working with a business that provided a ‘personal value’ was even more important than working with one that provided ‘business value’”​

Most people recognize the power of emotion, when it comes to rites of passage such as births, marriages and death. But the influence of emotion over everyday consumer and business decisions is less well appreciated. Research shows however that an overwhelming majority of consumers choose what they want to buy because it appeals to them on an emotional level, even if they think they are making a decision based on logic. For companies that work out how best to tap into their customers’ psyche, this can be a real opportunity to stand out from their peers.​

In 1997, when Apple welcomed back Steve Jobs, it was a failing company with a sinking stock price and a poor public image. By 1998, he had returned the business to profitability – not through innovation alone – but through an emotionally charged advertising campaign, ‘Think different’. A variation of rival IBM’s ‘Think’ slogan, the campaign paired Apple products with iconoclasts including Amelia Earhart, Gandhi and Picasso. The message transmitted was simple but effective: when you buy Apple, you do not just choose a different sort of hardware. You choose to make a break from the status quo.  Apple did not look back. Along with companies such as Lexus and Harley-Davidson, it now had a cult-like following, after creating products and ad campaigns that appealed to consumers on an emotional level.

Research confirms that the success of this emotion-based marketing is no fluke. Recent studies of human psychology and neuroscience reveal that when it comes to consumer decision-making, emotion trumps logic almost every time. Not that buyers are always aware of it.

Only connect

Harvard Business School professor Gerald Zaltman, author of How Customers Think: Essential Insights into the Mind of the Market, estimates that 95 per cent of purchase decision-making takes place in the unconscious mind. Even if consumers say that they spend time comparison-shopping, for instance, their actual behaviour reveals otherwise.  “Often they don’t look at alternatives to the chosen brand. Even if they do go through the motions of deliberation, the decision itself was often decided before the process even began,” he says. 

According to Zaltman and other researchers in his field, the subconscious, pre-chosen brand is usually the one that has been the most successful at connecting with the consumer on an emotional level. Studies using advanced neuro-imagery techniques reveal that when subjects were asked to evaluate brands, they primarily activated parts of their brains associated with personal feelings and experiences, rather than the locations associated with dissecting information, such as features, facts and product specifications. These findings have even given rise to a new field of marketing called neuromarketing, which uses a form of MRI technology to predict consumer behaviour.

The evidence that emotion plays a key role in decision-making has become accepted wisdom for marketers, but it is a phenomenon that has long been known in neuroscience circles. University of Southern California (USC) neuroscientist Antonio Damasio discovered through his studies that people who sustained brain damage in the parts of the brain associated with emotions found themselves unable to make even the smallest of practical decisions, like what to eat for lunch or what to wear. His research indicates that emotion is not just part of the decision-making process, it is the bedrock of the process.

Ninety-five per cent of purchase decision-making takes place in the unconscious mind. Even if consumers say that they spend time comparison- shopping, their actual behaviour reveals otherwise”​

Chicken test

“Emotions are super-important,” agrees Raj Raghunathan, professor of marketing at University of Texas McCombs School of Business. “Even if people aren’t comfortable admitting to it.” When asked to give examples of the divide between emotional and rational decision-making, he often gives the example of two chickens. In one study, Raghunathan showed participants two photos. One was of a healthy, plump-looking chicken. The other was a picture of a thin, sickly looking chicken. The stark difference between the aesthetics of the two was intended to force a visceral reaction.Researchers then informed half of the participants that the sickly looking chicken was “tastier, but not healthy” while the plump chicken was “healthy, but not tasty”. A second group of participants was given the opposite information – the plump chicken was “tasty, but not healthy,” while the sickly chicken was “healthy, but not tasty”.

Perhaps not surprisingly, nearly all participants in the study chose the plump-looking chicken as their meal of choice. While that in and of itself may not be surprising, what stood out to Raghunathan was that each group arrived at the same conclusion, while rationalising the decision entirely differently. The first group claimed that health was more important than taste, while the other group said the opposite. Both groups were willing to adopt any rationale to justify arriving at the same, emotion-based conclusion.

Looking good

This is called “post-hoc realisation,” says Raghunathan. It is the practice of using the pretence of logic to justify emotional decisions. We do it in hiring, we do it in dating and we especially do it in buying. The question becomes, for businesses looking to capture the psychology of the consumer, how do we bring emotions into products and services?

Many companies, says Raghunathan, are starting to hone in on the idea from a few angles. One approach is to devote more time and resources to greeting consumers with an emotionally appealing aesthetic. Companies are essentially trying to make themselves “plump chickens” in the marketplace. Airbnb for example, focused on design and aesthetics when it launched its website. By offering a more pleasing website than its competitor, HomeAway, it managed to capture the home-sharing market. Apple and Google are other examples of companies that pioneered a clean, modern aesthetic and turned an inviting appearance into a brand virtue that connects with users’ emotions.​

What’s the story?

Brands can also imbue their products and services with emotion through storytelling. Swiss watchmaker Patek Philippe exemplifies this approach. Part of the Patek Philippe story is that the luxury watch you buy is not just for yourself; it is for your children and your children’s children. Buying a Patek Philippe watch is, essentially, investing in your legacy. While this story alone may be powerful enough to compel consumers to purchase, the company has taken an extra step. Patek Philippe engineered the brand story into the product itself. The company’s watches are designed to mark leap years and other calendar changes that only take place every 100 years or so, so you can be sure they will run accurately for generations. The company has woven its story into the product and created a full emotional experience for the consumer.

Stories are powerful drivers of consumer choice, but not all stories are equal, from a business standpoint. According to a recent Harvard Business School study, there are 10 main emotional motivators, or narrative stories, that are particularly likely to drive consumer choice. These motivators are essential stories that customers want to tell about themselves, and which they feel they can achieve through interacting with a product or service. Patek Philippe and its story of creating an impressive enduring legacy, for example, may tie into one of the key motivators, “Be successful”.​

There are 10 main emotional motivators, or narrative stories, that are particularly likely to drive consumer choice”​

Unlocking potential

Other motivators include “Stand out from the crowd” (which Apple keyed into years ago), “Have confidence in the future,” “Protect the environment,” “Feel a thrill” “Feel a sense of freedom” and “Be the best person I can be”. 

These motivators are so powerful and consistent that consumers across the world and all walks of life respond to them. As Harvard Business School explains: “A company doesn’t have to be born with the emotional DNA of Disney or Apple to succeed.” By tracking and appealing to these high-impact motivators, “Even a cleaning product or a canned food can forge powerful connections.” Green household cleaner company The Honest Company, for example, used the “Protect the environment” motivator to create a billion-dollar company.

When brands are able to hit on these motivators, studies indicate that the returns keep coming. Simply put, consumers who associate products with one or more of the 10 main motivators are more likely to stick with a business in the long run.

“Emotionally connected customers are more than twice as valuable as highly satisfied customers. These emotionally connected customers buy more of your products and services, visit you more often, exhibit less price sensitivity, pay more attention to your communications, follow your advice, and recommend you more – everything you hope their experience with you will cause them to do,” a Harvard Business School report suggests.​

Emotionally connected customers are more than twice as valuable as highly satisfied customers”​

Business to business

Consumer-facing businesses may need to be mindful of their customers’ emotions. But what about B2B marketing, where customers are theoretically acting in a more pragmatic and less explicitly personal way?

Again, studies show that while the emotional decision-making effects may be slightly muted when it comes to B2B purchases, they are still present.One study conducted by insight and technology company CEB showed that when making B2B decisions, 71 per cent of respondents said that working with a business that provided “personal value” was even more important than working with one that provided “business value”. They were also twice as likely to be repeat customers.

Personal value may be harder to define in the B2B arena but Raghunathan suggests that it may, again, come down to storytelling. What value was transmitted about the service provided? How was the customer made to feel about their business? Here, authenticity and transparency can help to create a satisfying and emotional story. Crucially too, the customer needs to feel that he or she is playing an important role. 

As in any other consumer scenario, B2B companies can derive genuine benefits from making an emotional connection early. “The earlier you make the emotional connection the better, because once consumers have decided they like a particular option, the more difficult it is for them to backpedal. Their thinking falls in line with the emotions. In the end, the decision-makers in B2B contexts are also people – not machines!” says Raghunathan.

He does note one caveat. In B2B contexts, business purchases are made in groups or teams, and studies show that individual emotions – while important – become less highly weighted in such scenarios. “That said,” says Raghunathan “decision-making teams are composed of people, so emotions will still matter – just a little less.” 

Back to articles

 

When making B2B decisions, 71 per cent of respondents said working with a business that provided a ‘personal value’ was even more important than working with one that provided ‘business value’”​

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Bridgepoint  |  The Point  |  November 2017  |  Issue 32