For many years the rationalist model of marketing has been dying. Whilst marketing has always been synonymous with salesmanship (the notion of selling the brand as well as the product still holds true today), there has been a decisive departure from appeals of a purely rational nature towards a more emotive and humanising marketing approach. Largely this has been a reaction to the growing cynicism of a media savvy and digitally connected consumer base towards interruptive advertising, but also it is a sign of a growing appreciation of the role of psychology in marketing.
Consider the words of the great early 20th century marketer, Claude C Hopkins who proclaimed in 1923 that all “advertising is salesmanship.” The empowerment of the internet generation to make informed purchasing decisions, has whittled down the role of the traditional salesman’s approach in 21st century marketing. This has been replaced with something all the more powerful and persuasive though; the opportunity to influence our decision making without us even realising it.
How We Make Decisions
The field of psychology has advanced greatly since Hopkins’ days and so too with it did the science of influencing human behaviour; a field the marketing world has understandably taken a great interest in.
Being able to understand how we come to a decision, specifically a purchasing decision, has allowed marketers to conceptualise the idea of a marketing funnel, in which specific advertising can be targeted at consumers at different stages of the purchasing journey. As the internet continues to allow marketers ever more precision in targeting the consumer journey across devices and platforms, so too has this approach to segmenting various types of marketing content grown more sophisticated.
Nobel Laureate and behavioural psychologist, Daniel Kahneman, produced what is probably the most influential model for understanding decision making, by splitting the mental process down into two systems of thought.
- System 1 (fast)
This is a perceptual and intuitive system, generating involuntary impressions and feelings that do not need to be expressed in words. This system is fast to react, automatic, associative and effortless. It learns through repeated experiences and gradually over time.
- System 2 (slow)
This is conversely, is slow to react, effortful, analytical, and rule-governed but flexible enough to assimilate and process new information. It is the rational side of us that helps us make sense of the things around us, solve and circumvent everyday problems and justify our decisions.
Although we like to think of ourselves as rational beings, the evidence from numerous studies and research has suggested quite the opposite; that we are in fact emotional beings driven by our gut reactions and emotional responses. In other words, we are as consumers, ruled by system 1 thinking and not system 2.
Affect Heuristics And Creating Consumer Bias
Of course, all of this research into our propensity towards emotional marketing isn’t to say that rational or logical appeals are ineffective, or even essential in sealing the deal. It’s perhaps more useful therefore to think about it in terms of how emotional marketing plays into the marketing funnel. Whilst it has been assumed for some time that emotional appeals play well in the awareness stage of the funnel and again later in the loyalty and advocacy stages (both post-purchase stages), recent evidence seems to suggest that emotional marketing may have a greater role in the later pre-purchase stages, namely consideration, intent and purchase.
Kahneman describes how ‘affect heuristics’, create emotional bonds that act like mental shortcuts predisposing us towards a certain way of thinking. In other words, by eliciting strong emotional responses in a consumer, marketers can create a bias towards their product or brand that permeates beyond the awareness stage. We as consumers will then use rational (system 2) thinking to back up this bias at every subsequent stage of the marketing funnel.
All of this happens at a subconscious level, so whilst we tell ourselves we have come to a rational purchasing decision, we are in fact deluded and have been biased towards that position from the very start.
Emotional Content And Seek Out Marketing
It is too simple to think of emotion and rationalism taking centre stage at different stages in the marketing funnel. The truth is that they are both at play at every stage. As advertising executive Douglas Van Praet has clarified “while emotions overwhelmingly drive behaviour, it is misguided to believe that thinking and feeling are somehow mutually exclusive. Emotion and logic are intertwined.”
Perhaps the most visible sign of the rise of emotionally lead marketing can be seen through the continuing shift towards inbound content marketing and away from old fashioned interruptive advertising methods of old. The growing importance of creating, what I refer to as seek out marketing, is in some ways expedient and driven by the rise of the new media consumer, who is more discerning in what branded content he or she consumes. But, as well as a reaction to this comparatively new media environment, I believe it has also been born of our greater understanding into how emotional marketing works in the decision making process.
Before I go, I want to draw your attention two very different but equally compelling studies that explore the power of emotion in the decision making process:
- This 2013 study from Google and the CEB's Marketing Leadership Council looks into the effect of emotional marketing appeals in B2B marketing
- This in depth 2012 study by Brainjuicer Labs proposes a new emotionally based marketing methodology, citing evidence of how emotion can work at every stage of the decision making process.
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* Adapted lead image: Public Domain, pixabay.com via getstencil.com