The Emotional Light Switch

Humans have this long held belief that we are rational beings; I believe that this is true. We are able to reason deductively and make decisoins based on a set of criteria.  This ideal holds true only to a point, this is the point where our own self interests are on the line.  Once we are making decisions for ourselves it is almost as if there is a big switch that our brain turns on and we start thinking with our heart.  For some people this switch is a dimmer, they have the ability to find a happy medium between rational and emotional decision making for others this is an old-fashioned switch and there are only two options: rational and emotional.

About two years ago I worked at Best Buy which was a very interesting place to observe the way that people made decisions.  Given that most of the things in the store would fall into the category of optional purchases as owning an 80 inch TV is not what most people would classify as a “necessity” it was interesting to watch as people weighed their options and ultimately decided.  Some people would come in and had already set parameters for their decision, things such as a budget, specifications or capabilities the product had to have while others would come in blind and buy whatever caught their eye that day.

I specifically remember this one lady that had come in with a list of what she needed her new computer for her business to do as well as having a budget set and in general being one that would be classified with the set of organized people.  She had no predisposition between Mac and PC so I showed her some of each that were within her price range and told her which ones would meet her needs and how it would work for her.  You could see she was standing there and trying to absorb all of this information, that was, until we walked past the $3000 iMac (which was about $1750 above what her budget had been set at but it sure would look sexy in her office) and the switch went off, she had just turned a rational decision into an emotional one.  She casually asked me about it and if it would do everything she needed which – of course – it would.  I had made no effort to sell her on this computer but she had suddenly switched to emotional thinking and all that she could see was the glory of all her friends admiring her beautiful new iMac.  It has been said that some Apple fans experience a near religious experience on sight of their products (see video below) but this lady was not previously an Apple fan, she was just an emotional decision maker and her emotions had just gotten the better of her, and her pocketbook on this day. I was amazed at how fast a rational decision maker had turned into an emotional one; yet another reason to be very careful in how you present your ideas to decision makers in both sales as well the corporate communications environment.

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2 Responses to “The Emotional Light Switch”

  1. The emotional light switch is an interesting part of humanity. You’ve given a great example of how this can affect people’s lives on a day-to-day personal basis.

    This got me to thinking – how bright does the light have to be to blind the consumer of the ramifications of their purchase? Buyer’s remorse is a very real thing, but some people never seem to experience it.

    In marketing, we’re taught to inform and persuade to reduce cognitive dissonance as much as possible, but some people never feel it, requiring no coaxing at all (as seen with your customer who literally fell in love at first sight of that Mac).

    It seems that many companies are attempting to market their products these days to create that “religious experience” upon seeing one of their products. For example, Apple casts all of their products in a heavenly setting in commercials and car companies cast their cars in dream-like settings.

    My question becomes this: Is it the marketing of the product that creates that “religious experience?” Is it the way that a sales person describes it? Or is it the product itself?

  2. That’s a great question, I think that it is a combination of at least two of those. The marketing materials must be consistent in the way that these products are presented (see Apple commercials, like you mentioned) but the product itself must also be consistently strong to support this image or it must carry some type of extreme word of mouth benefits for it to attain that “heavenly” product persona that some brands have created for their products.

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