Head Vs. Heart: How Emotions Affect Logical Decisions
An experiment by University of Texas researchers Raghunathan and Huang went something like this: Subjects were shown a picture of a nice, plump chicken and a picture of a chicken that was sickly and skinny. They were told that the plump chicken was natural and the skinny one was genetically modified.
To the first group, the researchers explained that the plump chicken wasn’t as tasty, but it was healthier than the skinny one. The second group was told that the plump chicken was tastier, but the skinny one was healthier.
The results? When asked which chicken they’d rather eat, both groups chose the plump one. The first group explained their actions by saying that health was more important than taste, but the second explained their choice by saying that taste was more important than health.
Both groups were wrong. They made the choice they did because they formed an emotional connection with the plump chicken from the beginning of the experiment. Not only did it look better, but they were told it was “all-natural.” Their logic for choosing that chicken came after the fact and molded to fit their emotional motivations.
Thus begins the age-old tug-of-war between the head and the heart. While humans should make logical choices, they largely base what they know and decide on their emotions, memories, opinions, and life experiences. It’s something to take into consideration during the marketing strategy process: How can brands combine logic and emotions to create a positive buying outcome?
Getting Emotional About Emotions
It can be frustrating to take emotions into consideration for business and marketing decisions. If you have the best product for the best price, consumers should buy it, right? But while they can be frustrating, emotions can actually act as a powerful ally in steering consumers to the decision you want. To be frank, without emotion, humans would be fairly incapable of making any decision; let alone a logical one.
Emotions are essentially shortcuts built by the brain to generate feelings on subjects, which then guide decisions and actions. If you didn’t have an emotional response to decisions, every one that you had to make–be it mundane or profound–would have to be distilled to pros and cons, purchase prices, and reviews. And, since you don’t really have the time to draw up a list while standing in the aisle of a grocery store, you allow your emotions to take over and guide the process.
Emotions are typically the first stop in the decision-making process, but they aren’t the last stop. Logic comes in when rationalizing the decision that you want to make: You reach for the same brand of paper towel as your mom used to buy, for instance, but rationalize the decision because that brand of paper towel works well. For further tangential discussion on this topic, read about what max diff is, and how marketers can learn from it.
Occasionally, logic can outweigh emotions for larger decisions: You’d love to buy a supercharged motorcycle because you’ve loved them since you were a kid, but it makes more sense to buy a sedan as a commuter car. Logic wins out.
Together, emotions and logic pair to become a decision-making powerhouse. To capture both in consumers, brands must first create an emotional connection between consumer and product (“Just like mom used to make!”) before then highlighting the logical reasons to make that decision (“Now with all-natural ingredients!”). This is an integral part of product research and development. Emotions might be unpredictable, personal, and frustrating, but they’re more powerful than any logical explanation for a decision and as such, must be taken into consideration when strategizing.