Emotional Is Not The Opposite Of Rational

Over the past few years marketers — financial services marketers, in particular — have increasingly recognized the importance of emotional factors in how consumers make decisions. Especially when it comes to products that they believe should be evaluated on rational factors, like the interest rate on a checking or savings account, or on a loan.

The light shone brightly on this topic this week as Roger Dooley, Tony Mannor, Jeffry Pilcher, and I all blogged about a marketing test conducted by a South African bank which found that replacing the photo of a male with a photo of a female in an offer letter significantly increased take-up; equal to dropping the interest rate about 4.5 points.

This recognition has impacted Web site design approaches, as illustrated by the four-quadrant system for categorizing a person’s purchasing style developed by Roy Williams and the Eisenburg brothers (and cited by Jeff Larche in his blog, which is where I read about it). The quadrants are formed by two dimensions — the speed with which a decision is made (fast versus slow), and the style with which a decision is made (logical versus emotional).

My take: Studies like the one from the bank, and the decision quadrants from the Eisenburgs, can lead marketers to think that emotional decisions are not necessarily rational decisions. This is not necessarily true. Emotional is not the opposite of rational.

Example: You’re watching Bambi, and Bambi’s mother is kiiled. You begin to cry. That’s an emotional response. But it’s a rationally emotional repsonse. After all, crying in response to something that’s sad is not an inappropriate response. If you were to laugh at that, that would be an irrationally emotional response.

Marketers don’t sufficiently understand the degree to which consumers’ decisions are emotional or rational. But one thing is for certain: It’s not an either/or situation. The challenge marketers face is determining (preferably through testing) what combination of rational and emotional factors should be included in their marketing efforts. And for site designers, categorizing someone as making either an emotional or logical decision is probably wrong, and could lead to poor site design decisions.

What’s disturbing, though, are studies like the one from the South African bank. The decision that many of the bank’s customers made were neither rational or emotional — they were irrational (at least as far as I can tell, or will allow myself to believe).

What could have been going through the minds of these guys (and as the study found, it was mostly guys who were influenced by the pictures) to let a picture of a pretty woman influence their decision to accept a loan offer? I could guess — but not publicly.

As marketers, we can better understand emotions, the role emotions play in consumer decisions, and the interaction of emotional and rational factors in decision making. But if consumer decisions are irrational, then we’re all in trouble.


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