“Emotion serves as a cognitive guide and helps adults make decisions every day” (Goleman, 1997)
Our emotions are the very things that help us make every single decision we make, every second of every day – who to buy from, who to work for, what to wear, etc. The very things we criticise people for showing; the very things we try and not reveal to others or let influence our actions; the things least talked about in the boardroom and the things we least understand – our emotions. These ultimately are the very things that drive decisions that drive business success.
For organisations, emotions are not just something to navigate around they are something to harness. Emotions do not just influence customer decisions but decisions made in the boardroom and on the shop floor internally. Every day, how people feel, is influencing their decisions and business success from both the inside and outside. The Disney movie ‘Inside Out’ may on the face of it be for children but the true science that supports it gives us all an insight into the real impact emotions have on our life.
Emotions are the triggers for every decision we make
In 1848, an explosion on an American railway line blew a thin iron rod into the skull of a railway worker Phineas Gage. Amazingly he survived and was even able to talk and walk immediately afterwards. On the face of it he had a remarkable escape, as outwardly he seemed normal. However, the rod had damaged part of the brain that deals with emotions – the prefrontal cortex. Overnight he changed from a responsible, sociable, capable man into an impatient, impulsive, unreliable person who found it almost impossible to make even the simplest decisions.
Emotions are the switch, the tipping point for any decision – without them our thoughts have no bias one way or the other
It is your customer’s emotions that drive their decisions – not the price, the product features or even the market share. Yes these functional attributes influence the outcome but only via their emotional weighting. These functional messages are used to post-rationalise our emotional decisions but they do not, in themselves drive our behaviour.
So, I hear you say, you’re telling me that if a product is cheaper, and has more features that the purchase decision isn’t purely a ‘logical’ decision?! The answer is yes. There is no such thing as a purely logical decision. The myth that people like Mr Spock from Star Trek believed; that without emotions we are free to make logical ‘correct’ decisions just isn’t true. When Spock claimed the “needs of the few out way the needs of the many”, he was only helping to reinforce a nation’s incorrect belief that emotions cloud our otherwise logical decisions. The truth is that without emotions we couldn’t make decisions.
Let me be clear. I’m not saying our emotions can’t cause us to make the wrong decisions, they clearly can. What I am saying is that every decision has an emotional bias behind it and, if organisations want to influence decisions and behaviours internally and externally (the drivers for competitive edge), they must understand what emotions trigger a desired outcome. Organisations should understand the emotional drivers first and the functional evidence second. Even in the companies who we may think are brand literate, are just starting to recognise this focus. As KFC’s CMO David Timm announced in 2015 as part of a complete refocus on how they communicate their proposition,
“People make decisions emotionally not rationally. We need to connect with people emotionally through advertising and not through reason.”