Inspiring frustration, confusion, and anger in a consumer can prevent them from making decisions at all.
The average American adult makes tens of thousands of decisions each day. Up to 35,000 decisions, to be exact. This might not be a surprise, since choice has become part of nearly everything we do. Do you want a burrito, tacos, or salad? Strawberry, blueberry, or raspberry jam? (Spoiler alert: our own Marisa Boevers has some serious opinions about these choices.) Every customer-oriented company in existence is looking to implement new ways to help consumers make the best decisions.
The number of choices we make a day might not be a total surprise, but here’s something that is: almost all of the decisions that our brains process are emotional decisions. A seminal study by Martin Lindstrom, documented in the book Buyology, shows that rational decision-making isn’t as prevalent as we’ve always thought. Using an fMRI to monitor consumers’ responses to choice, Lindstrom was able to see “how emotions—such as generosity, greed, fear, and well-being—impact economic decision-making.” Lindstrom’s conclusion: we can’t keep basing economic models on predictable, rational behavior, because people aren’t basing their decision-making in rational thought. Lindstrom references work by George Loewenstein, a behavioral economist from Carnegie Mellon University, to explain further: “’Most of the brain is dominated by automatic processes, rather than deliberate thinking. A lot of what happens in the brain is emotional, not cognitive.’”
That’s right. Whether you pick tacos or a burrito for lunch isn’t a rational decision. It’s one based in emotion surrounding the experience of ordering and eating. You might remember a positive experience that you had with friends while eating tacos, or the mere smell of cilantro in the burrito’s rice might trigger a negative feeling.
So, if emotions are the foundation for humans’ decision-making, how do you get consumers to make better decisions—decisions that align with goals that they’ve defined for themselves? You have to either appeal to the emotional part of the brain to steer them in the right direction, or you have to somehow overcome it.
Overcoming emotional decision-making
Appealing to consumers’ emotions is a traditional component of marketing and advertising. Using strategies like storytelling can help consumers to see how people similar to them would make a purchasing decision. Cheerios’ 2013 campaign is a prime example of this type of emotional storytelling. The campaign included commercials that showed families of all shapes, sizes, and backgrounds enjoying Cheerios at the breakfast table together. With this ad, Cheerios tells a story of inclusion—essentially, Cheerios is for everyone.
That type of storytelling evokes emotions and draws consumers towards a product that most aligns to their feeling of self. And that can be a good thing.
Emotions can get in the way
But what do you do when emotions get in the way of decision-making? When consumers’ emotions hinder their ability to make smart decisions in line with their goals?
Here’s an example where a consumer needs to overcome his emotions to make the decision that’s in his best interest.
James is in his 20s and is just starting out in his career. His goal is to retire at 60. But that’s a long time away. He knows that he should start saving the maximum amount for retirement now—especially since his employer has a great 401K matching benefit. But emotional purchasing gets in the way of his saving goals. He likes the instant gratification of going on vacation with his friends. He likes to keep up with the latest trends. All of that spending makes him feel good now
We see James’s story all the time with people of all backgrounds and ages. He knows his goal, but his emotions get in the way. How do companies help people like James who have a hard time making high-information decisions because their emotions get involved? They know that they want to make a logical decision, but they just can’t.
In the end, companies can help people like James overcome their emotions to make a decision. Let’s be clear: this isn’t playing on consumers’ emotions just to sell product. This is giving consumers tools to help them conquer decision-making obstacles so they can make the best decision based on their goals.
At ThoughtForm, our experience in educating consumers and shaping perceptions has helped us to define three key approaches to helping consumers overcome emotions in critical, high-stakes decision-making.
1. Create rules.
Let’s look at James’s scenario again. This is a prime example where creating rules could help him to overcome his emotions. Rather than having an opt-in retirement program that requires James to decide if he wants to participate, James’s employer could create new rules around retirement saving: automatic retirement contributions. James wouldn’t have to decide whether or not he wants to participate; the decision would be made for him from the get-go. A standard percentage of his salary would automatically be contributed to his retirement account unless he decided to opt out. With his pre-tax contribution removed from his check before he can think about what else to spend it on (and be swept up by the emotions that make those purchases so appealing), James is one major step closer to achieving early retirement.
Of course, his employer must clearly explain this program to James. But by providing new, consumer-focused rules, the employer is able to help its employees do more by taking in-the-moment emotions out of the equation.
2. Provide access to experts.
Sometimes, all it takes to overcome consumers’ emotions is to put them in contact with an expert—someone who knows the ins and outs of a particular type of decision. Experts are the key to overcoming uncertainty. Health insurance concierges are great examples of experts who can help consumers beat uncertainty. These customer service specialists have the answers that health insurance members need to make decisions about accessing health care services, including:
- Finding the right doctor
- Scheduling appointments
- Understanding complex insurance terms
- Checking to see if a service or prescription is covered
Though members could take the time to work through each of the above, each has the potential to build emotions. Inspiring frustration, confusion, and anger in a consumer can prevent them from making decisions at all. Health insurance concierges, like financial advisors, nutritionists, life coaches, and other consultation-focused experts, help consumers make the right decisions for their needs by answering questions that might have been sticking points.
3. Appeal to different emotions.
Have a lot of emotion to overcome? Help consumers swap their goal-inhibiting emotions for more productive ones. This is where great storytelling comes back into play. To help consumers switch emotions, it’s important to tell stories that focus on the outcome that they will achieve through the product or service—not the process of using it.
For example, a consumer is looking to purchase a new homeowner’s insurance policy to achieve his goal of safety and financial security. But he can’t shake his frustration with the way his most recent flood claim was processed from his previous policy. Here, the salesperson at the insurance agency can use her consultative sales skills to tell an outcome-driven story: with a new level of coverage, the consumer could have more robust protection against floods, leading to better claim reimbursement and greater financial security in the future. The consumer goes from frustrated to content in the time it takes for the salesperson to tell the story.
In the end, it’s not impossible to overcome the emotions that drive consumers’ decision-making. You just need to give them the right tools that help them look past their emotions and move closer to achieving the goals that are most important to them.
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