As we begin to head towards Christmas (yes, it’s time to admit that we are), I have been spending some time thinking about why we end up buying what we buy.

Respected ‘Persuasion Psychologist’ Bart Schutz once succinctly said, “Our brain is not rational, our brain is rationalizing.”

What does he mean by that?

Our brain has two systems, one is conscious and slow processing and the other is intuitive and instant. Many people don’t realise that we make most of our day-to-day decisions based in large part on emotion, with our intuitive brain and our conscious brain will then attempt to rationalize that decision.

For example…

• McDonalds or Burger King?
• Coke or Pepsi?
• Tesco or Asda?
• Playstation or Xbox?
• iPhone or Android?
• Costa or Starbucks?
• White shirt or blue shirt today?

Did you have any preferences?

The choices we make intuitively aren’t our conscious, rational brain working, they are driven by our emotional, intuitive brain.

Side one decides to like Costa and side two rationalizes the decision (e.g. Costa has a richer blend of coffee/the chairs are comfier in Costa). So, we think we’ve rationally decided that Costa is better. Not true! We’ve emotionally decided that Costa is better.

Our thinking is full of mistakes psychologists call ‘cognitive biases.’ They affect everything we do. They make us spend impulsively and be overly influenced by what other people think. They affect our beliefs, our opinions and our decisions and often we have no idea it is happening to us.

Hard to believe?

That’s because our logical, slow mind is a master at inventing a cover story that fools even us (who have made the decision in the first place). Most of the beliefs or opinions we have, come from an automatic response. But then our logical mind invents a reason why we think or believe something.

There are other non-logical factors that influence our purchases. There’s hindsight bias, the halo effect, the spotlight effect, loss aversion and the negativity bias to name a few. Studies show that in all of these areas too, emotion rules!

So, as a business owner, what does that mean for your Brand?

It’s important to know that people are not first of all attracted to your brand based on facts and logical conclusions and that most of the time, your customers are evaluating you against your competitor using their intuitive brain, which is driven by emotion.

Even when the purchase decision is slow and logical and involves a committee and a spreadsheet (or two), there will have been moments along the way where the intuitive/emotional side of the brain has got involved to help sway the decision one way or another. Cognitive research shows that even experts’ decisions may be influenced by unrelated emotions during the time of making a decision (this is called short-term emotional bias).

Ok, I admit, some people do spend hours and hours and hours researching product features and comparing them (I don’t, but my husband does)! But despite that, research shows that 90% of critical decisions are still made using the intuitive brain (The Power of Intuition, Gary Klein). I asked my logical husband to explain why he’d recently bought himself another ‘Scott’ mountain bike.  ‘Because I had one before and I had some great times on it’ was his response. There’s an example of emotion influencing hindsight bias right there! Even very logical thinkers sometimes make decisions without evaluating all the available factual information.

Therefore, brands that leverage emotion are more likely to get chosen than brands focussing solely on the best logical argument. Comparative features are important, but (for the many not the few), often as reassurance after the purchase, if not as part of the initial buying decision.

If you want to learn more about using emotion in your branding, please get in touch.

How emotion influences buying

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