Emotions have a big role in the decisions we make.
Our brains work by taking in information about the world, processing it, and responding in appropriate ways.
There are 2 separate systems at work. Different authors call these the “Low road” and the “High road”, “System 1” and “System 2”, or “Hot” and “Cold”.
They all basically make the same point—unconscious decision-making is quicker and easier, so we tend to trust it rather than making the cognitive effort to think consciously1.
Emotions are a special category of unconscious decision making oriented towards avoiding damage (fear, disgust) or getting something we want (joy, anger). They are, to quote the MIT Encyclopedia of the Cognitive Sciences,
“A process that functions in the management of goals.”
It follows that emotions are important for anyone who wants to understand the customer experience or purchasing decisions, but emotions don’t factor equally in all decisions. We rely on emotions when there isn’t much perceived differentiation between suppliers. This is something David Ogilvy knew…
“The greater the similarity between products, the less part reason plays in brand selection…”
…and which research has confirmed. The research also helps to quantify which types of products tend to be a more emotional or more rational purchase decision (there are some examples in the diagram below).
Relative importance of emotion and reason2
When it comes to the customer experience, it turns out that emotion totally trumps reason. A good example is waiting times—it’s the quality of the wait that matters, not the quantity. Customers don’t evaluate the length of the wait rationally, they respond emotionally to how long it feels.
Designing experiences that create the right emotions is what sets great organisations apart from others whose products and services are just as good in purely functional terms. To do that, we need to understand customer emotions and what shapes them.
Is it possible to measure customer emotions? Maybe, but that’s a post for another day…
- Kahneman’s “Thinking fast and slow” is the must-read in this area.
- Adapted from A. Chaudhuri “Emotion and Reason in Consumer Behaviour“