because i liked it

There’s no ambiguity in business decisions. Or at least that’s what we think.



This week I bought a new lawn trimmer. I never liked my old one. When the string got short, I had to insert new string by hand into the trimmer head, versus the bump method I had used on my previous trimmer. And now I couldn’t even get it to start. I was done with it. In fact, I was done with that brand. Before heading over to the home store, I decided to do some online research. I was attracted to one brand that had a distinctive color—a bright yellow-green—as opposed to the dominant red and black color schemes. It also had a video showing off product features and benefits that other brands didn’t have. I went to the home store zeroing in on the clearly branded yellow-green packages and product displays.

You and I are rational beings. There might be a few crazies out there, but not us! When I bought that yellow-green Ryobi lawn trimmer, I made the decision based on logic, facts and what’s best for my situation—or at least I think I did.

As I write this, I’m trying to recall how much I actually evaluated those red and black brands. (Not that much really). By the time I was in the store, the sales associate, who tried to push me toward a couple other brands was in a lost cause. I wanted that yellow-green Ryobi!

But that’s the consumer world. In the business world we think more logically. You know—numbers, like spread sheets, and profit and loss statements. The stock is either up, or the stock is down. There’s no ambiguity in business decisions. Or at least that’s what we think.

Since the enlightenment, humans have placed more value on logic. After all, isn’t it our rational self that separates us from animals? In actuality, rationality is just part of it. Neuroscientists tell us we buy based on emotion, but justify with logic. When asked, people will use logical, rational explanations for their choices. Our brains don’t like admitting they’ve been undone by our hearts.

The emotional impact on buying decisions plays a useful role. The nearly unlimited considerations that enter into any choice are reduced to a manageable number by emotional reactions. According to Harvard Business School professor Gerald Zaltman, 95% of our purchase decisions actually take place unconsciously. It could be argued that emotions are the unseen portion of rational thinking. They drive much of our decision-making, just processed unconsciously.

We all carry with us brand knowledge. Everything we’ve heard, read, seen and understand about a brand is in one big database in our head. We access that database when making a brand buying decision. This applies whether making a B2C or B2B purchase.

Today our office is responding to an RFP that indicates our reply will be evaluated on a point system, with so many points allocated to each of several categories, only one of which is budget. You might conclude this evaluation process appears to be strictly rational. Whoever has the most points wins. But the number of points assigned to each category is very subjective and dramatically influenced by emotional interpretation.

We’ve long held the idea that perception modifies behavior, which drives the performance of your business. Our research into the power of emotion, has shown us that in between perception and behavior, lies emotion. Behavior is not just logic and rationality. We buy with emotion and justify with logic. And my yellow-green Ryobi trimmer worked just great yesterday.

Picture of Randall Smith

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