To influence effectively, try to make people feel, not think

Organizations make many mistakes in marketing communications, but the biggest, most consistent one I’ve seen is the flawed belief the best way to motivate people is to make them think.

Successful marketers and salespeople know better. They’ve learned a far more effective way to encourage people to buy your product, use your service, support your cause, or take the time to listen to your pitch. They focus on making them feel.

People who believe the key is getting others to think work from the flawed assumption that humans are rational animals. They’re convinced we make decisions based primarily upon facts. They firmly believe we gather facts, compare them, arrive upon the most logical conclusions, and then make our choices.

If that were true, the world’s marketplace would come to a crashing halt. Most automakers would go out of business, and the remaining ones would offer only a few models. There would be no fashion industry and far fewer restaurants. Real estate’s value would plummet, and most companies would no longer have a reason to exist.

Why? Because humans really aren’t rational animals. We’re emotional creatures, and our decisions are driven primarily by our emotional responses. Sure, we can generate a long list of rational justifications for our decisions, but that comes only after our emotions have pointed us in a direction.

Want a great example? Consider the way people buy cars. They’re drawn to a particular model by its appearance, the way they believe they’ll look behind the wheel, how they feel others will regard their choice, and similar factors having absolutely nothing to do with rational thought. Once their emotional side has settled on that shiny 7 Series, they’ll generate that trusty list of rational reasons to justify the decision. It has superior engineering. The handling is crisp. It’s a comfortable ride. It maintains its value longer than other models.

If I asked you why you bought the car you currently drive, I’m confident I’d get a similar list of justifications. If challenged, you’d deny that you ever envisioned yourself being admired by some attractive individual as you motored down North Meridian Street with windows open on an early summer afternoon, but deep inside, you know you did.

You behaved in a similar manner when you bought your home and the clothes you’re wearing as you read this article. Your favorite whiskey may be delicious, but the first time you picked up a bottle, your emotions were making the choice for you based upon the bottle’s design or wanting to bask in the distiller’s reputation. When you offer your neighbor a glass, you expect it to ratchet up his impression of your taste and social status.

Don’t assume I’m being critical of your emotions. I’m not. Our being emotional animals is as much a part of our makeup as the flight-or-fight response that’s at the heart of what we call stress. I raise the issue not to scold you, but to remind you that others behave the same way. You might not think of CEOs, accountants, attorneys, network administrators, and even engineers as emotional animals, but they are, and you need to remember that when you try to influence them.

“Hold on!” you protest. That may apply to consumer behavior, but our company operates in the business-to-business world, where rational decisions prevail. We manufacture veeblefetzers and our customers buy them because they have the right specifications. Sorry, but you’re wrong.

Your customers buy what you offer instead of someone else’s offering because you’ve managed to address some emotional need they have. I engage your audit services because I don’t want to have uncomfortable conversations with the IRS. I hired your law firm because I know its name intimidates my adversaries. And I bank with you because your tellers always smile at me and ask about my day. Those feelings of confidence, pride, gratitude, serenity, joy, contentment, and more are the factors our emotional sides seek.

If you sell a commodity product, it’s true that price is a key motivator — but your customer’s overriding decision to choose you and not a competitor was largely based on confidence in how you do business. You deliver on time, so I don’t have to worry about missing deadlines and being chewed out by my boss.

If you want to influence people more effectively, don’t focus on making them think your company or your product is better. Instead, create messages that target emotional factors. Ask yourself what makes your customers feel fear or discomfort. Then find your message in how you keep that from happening. Instead of talking about your production engineering’s savvy, emphasize that customers won’t have to lose sleep over downtime due to component failure.

Facts do matter, but emotions are infinitely more powerful.