If your answer is “because of the price”, you are making a dangerous mistake.
To understand the patterns of decision making, we have to dig into human nature. We have already established that we rely on the “primitive” parts of our brain which controls emotions when making decisions, rather than on our cerebral cortex (which supports our analysis and rational data processing). This is tendency to abandon reason is even more evident in cases when our decisions are important, or when they are accompanied by a sizeable risk. Danger and fear are the primary influences that push us into subconscious decision making.
This is an evolutionary trait, one that we have developed over millennia, trying to survive. When our ancient ancestors walked out of their cave and saw a bear in a raspberry bush, they received two pieces of information at the same time. As a rule, those who focused on the berries over the bear didn’t get to spread their genes to the next generation. Those who stopped and thought about the bear’s intentions, whether it’s the same bear that ate their neighbor yesterday, or pondered if the bear is alone, also didn’t stand much of a chance. History was written by the cowards who ran back to the cave at the first sight of a bear or even an ominous shadow.
This brings me to the most important pattern: we focus on negative information much more than positive information. We react faster and retreat to established patterns when we feel threatened. Innovation under pressure is rare.
This pattern is not only useful for tabloid media, it also has practical uses in marketing. When you are walking down the street, you probably won’t stop and pick up a coin from the ground. On the other hand, most people will stop and pick up a coin if it falls from their hand. Our reaction to loss tends to overwhelm our desire for benefits, and when you communicate the benefits and advantages of your products, don’t forget that they also solve problems or prevent losses.
Of course, don’t be one of those marketing people – the ones who spend most of their time berating and threatening their audiences. Still, you should be aware that the sense of danger and loss is often a stronger argument than the promise of a better future.
Bugs in the code – repeatable short circuits in decision making
We can’t process all possible data alternatives in making our decisions, so we tend to jump to conclusions. Our most cowardly ancestors had the best chance of survival and we continue to use interpretation of limited information to come to conclusions today. The process is called heuristics, and it defines a process of problem solving and decision making with limited and incomplete data to draw “logical” conclusions. We simply don’t have enough time to collect all the information, so we decide on the basis of known patterns. The best possible result has never been our goal, but reducing the possibility of a disaster was.
A quick example. Have you ever walked into a restaurant on your vacation only to find it completely empty? Did you sit down and order or did you quickly go back out to the street to find another restaurant? Even though you cannot remember the concrete event, there is no doubt about your decision, is there?
Let’s look at the information that was available to you. The outward appearance of the restaurant must have been decent, since you decided to enter. They probably displayed a menu somewhere near the entrance, which means the price was acceptable as well. You may have even decided what to order. You have not heard anything bad about the food and haven’t even seen the waiter yet. There is no rational reason to doubt the product or service.
This shortcut in decision making is called social proof and it is one of the better known examples of heuristics in marketing. If we cannot get a complete picture from the available information, we focus on what others do.
This case is one of the pillars for the existence of brands, sponsorships and similar identification. A brand has a story, a promise, but the people using this brand are much more important than these things. If we see it the brand often, especially in costly advertisements, it means it’s a big brand and probably safe. If it is used by people like us (or people we admire – such as sponsored athletes and celebrities), we will even directly identify with this brand.
Sounds so clear and simple, doesn’t it? Still, you wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve seen companies refuse to list their references, thinking that their competitors will go after their accounts. An empty restaurant is not a good competitive strategy.
The dark side of heuristics – passiveness
Resistance to change is the most common reason for irrational decision making.
When people don’t have enough information or the information does not carry a strong enough positive or negative message, nothing will happen. If there is a lack of information, our brain always includes an additional argument of “an unknown danger in the bush”. This makes us all a bit skeptical and there is a word used every day that describes this problem – “catch”. A stranger offers you a free gift? No thanks, there must be a catch. There must be a negative consequence I cannot see which is much worse than the benefits I would get from the gifts.
Low-cost airline carriers are a good marketing example. Have you ever asked yourselves why they keep nagging you with the allowed luggage size and why they make you pay for every extra item? Have you ever asked yourself why they are so eager to tell you that everything on board, short of water, is charged extra? Even the so-called coffee they serve?
If they didn’t tell us what we would have to give up when we book a flight to London for 40 EUR, no one would dare fly with them. We would just assume that the airplanes are flown by unlicensed pilots or that the airline does not maintain their fleet or that the flight will be cancelled if anything goes wrong. The scenarios that we unconsciously create when we don’t have enough information always focus on worst cases.
These patterns are only the tip of the iceberg
In the coming days, we will discuss even more specific examples, but you have made a big step if you remembered the basic principles. The next time the buyers stubbornly decline your product even though it’s perfectly clear it is useful to them, think about the most common unconscious barriers that hold them back:
They do not get the feeling that your product saves or prevents a loss
Even though it offers clear benefits, it does not prevent loss. Your product is the coin on the road and not the deep pocket that protects them from losing the coin they already have.
They don’t get the feeling that the product is a “normal” choice
Tell them that others have tried it and were satisfied with it. The product category is a regular choice of many.
They do not have the feeling that they know and accept the risks
Complex products and solutions can cause a disaster in hundreds of different ways. Remember the old IBM slogan “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM”.
In the end, don’t forget that we are fighting feelings. We cannot beat feelings with data, but with stories that customers can identify with.
If you have a feeling that your story hurts the bottom line of the company, since it does not approach the emotional components of a purchase or establish trust required for every customer choice, you’re probably right.