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The 3 Ways Emotions Affect Our Decisions

A psychology primer to improve your marketing message


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Tatiana Gutierrez

3 years ago | 6 min read

By now, millions of humans have experienced a forced lockdown during the past few months. Most of us might feel that all the days are the same, even on the weekends. Looking back over the last three months, it seems like it was one day lived 90 times.

Although we feel this way now, our mind is not that monotonous. Our thoughts change by the minute, and with them, there’s a strong emotion linked.

On a single day, we might feel happy, sad, curious, bold, anxious, confused, confident, thoughtful, fearful, frustrated, relaxed, loved, impatient, demotivated, energetic, fearless, the list goes on.

Source: Mosaic Eye Unfolding

The Connection Between Emotions and Your Marketing Message

As humans, it seems we like to make easy things difficult. When we’re not sure why our marketing campaigns don’t show results or why our audience doesn’t convert on the website, we can get lost trying to find an explanation in the wrong places. We might think: “This platform is not working; I heard this other one is better.

This ad format doesn’t work; let’s add new ones. We are not spending enough. Our audience is too narrow; let’s broaden the targeting. Let’s create another campaign.

Let’s add more pages. Let’s add more links.” So we wind up saturating with more of the same.

Sometimes, the solution just lies in the message. In my previous post, I spoke about how to understand your website’s consumer behaviour.

In this article, based on the Digital Psychology course I’m doing at Conversion XL, I want to share how emotions are intrinsically related to our decision making and how we can reflect this in our marketing message.

A Brief Lesson From Neuromarketing

In his book Thinking Fast and Slow, laureate Daniel Kahneman explains that two modes of thought primarily drive us: “System 1” is fast, intuitive, and emotional; “System 2” is slower, more deliberative, and more logical.

Our brain is in a constant switch between the two. Neuroscientists have identified three areas where these two systems interact:

  • Old brain or Reptilian brain (fight or flight mode): Decides — It’s fast, impulsive, immediate. It’s our system 1. It has helped us survive and evolve as species.
  • Middle Brain or Limbic system (emotional processing): Feels — Receives input from the other two areas.
  • New brain (the sophisticated one): Thinks — It’s slow, it’s involved in all logical reasoning, conscious thoughts, language. It’s our system 2.

We’d like to believe that our decision making is primarily rational. After all, it’s what makes humans different from other species, but that’s not entirely the case. Psychologists understand four core mental processes that influence decisions:

  1. Cognitive Biases: are a disproportionate weight in favour or against an idea or thing. They can be innate or learned. We all have them; we’re not fully aware of them. Cognitive biases are extensive; they deserve a separate article with examples.
  2. Memories: Past experiences impact future decision making. If you’ve experienced a positive outcome from a decision, you’ll probably go with the same choice in the future. The same applies to negative experiences; you’ll avoid making the same mistake.
  3. Reason: is based on the information at hand, which is often incomplete. Even if you believe that you’ve gathered enough, there will be a moment where you stop your research because it saturates your brain, even when deciding for significant investments, like buying a house.
  4. Emotions: Decisions are emotional. Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio studied patients with damage only in the part of the brain which processes emotions. They all seemed reasonable, they could rationalise thoughts, but all had one thing in common: they couldn’t make simple decisions, like what to eat. It’s because we base decisions on emotions.

On average, adults make about 35,000 decisions a day. Let me repeat, in one single day. If emotional decision making dominates, it’s critical to lead with that.

When we sell a product, our message needs to first appeal to emotions and secondly to the reason. Customers should be able to first fall in love with it emotionally and justify it rationally.

Thus, rational content like FAQs and promotional, return or privacy policies tend to be at the bottom of the website, away from the emotional message.

And so, there are many techniques for emotional persuasion, but in this post, I’ll focus only on three that are worth applying:

Peak-End rule

Intense moments during an experience, whether they are positive or negative, and the final moments are what we remember the most.

How to use this in your message:

  • When customers see the “Thank you” message after completing your business goal (purchase, subscription, etc.) on the website or receive an email confirming the purchase, it’s a special moment for them but usually forgotten. We’ve been persuading them all along since they clicked an ad to get to this point and often we just say “thank you for your purchase.” Instead, add a compelling message here restating the value you’re providing with what they’ve just gotten, whether it’s buying a new product, subscribing to a trial, completing a form, etc. This will surely make their experience better, and you’re taking the next step in helping them come back.
  • Use enticing extras such as unlocking badges, an unexpected gift, or access to exclusive content. You can test this in a popup message. You might think customers don’t like popups, but if you put a compelling promo there, a unique code, a gift, or something that adds value, they won’t say no.

Equivalence Framing

“The way things are stated or portrayed highly influences our choices.”
— Bart Schutz

This powerful, persuasive technique refers to wording equivalent information in opposite terms where one option will have a higher impact over the other. One typical example in everyday conversations is a half-glass full or half-glass empty type of person. The former has a positive meaning.

If your customer aims to lose weight, a label saying 90% fat-free will be more persuasive than contains only 10% fat.

Other labels like 100% organic are influential because customers might have at least three motivations in mind: look after their health, support local producers, and care about the environment. It will be more persuasive to say pesticide-free, but this wouldn’t be technically correct as both organic and conventional farms use pesticides, it’s the type and amount used that varies.

How to use this in your message:

  • You should think about your customer’s pain points or motivations, assess how you present your product features to reword them in the opposite way and test its effectiveness.
  • If you’re trying to get your customers to subscribe to your newsletter, test opposite messaging to see which one they respond to more positively, perhaps saying “Don’t miss out on upcoming promos” is a better trigger than saying “Stay in the know about our promos.” The purpose is the same, but one message may have more weight over the other.

Forer Effect

We tend to identify with general personality descriptions quickly. We feel they are tailored to us when, in reality, they apply to a wide range of people. That’s why horoscopes persuade so many.

How to use this in your message:

  • Think about what personality traits your audience may feel identified with and include it in your copy, for example: “Are you the kind of person that likes to share knowledge,” or “You’re a creative type,” or “If you like to get things done.”
  • Mention that your solution is perfect for “X type of people.” Add a relevant image that depicts this. If possible show an authority figure or influencer.
  • Read through your product reviews to find the language your customers speak and use their words in your message. Find patterns about how your product makes their life better and convey that in your consumer journey.

These techniques can inspire some creativity in your message. The next time you feel tempted to make changes in your marketing strategy, first make sure you can confidently say that your message speaks to your customers’ emotions.

This article was originally published on medium.

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