A Very Irrational Decision

confusion – The Fundamental Group

So often, I hear our B2B software clients tell us that their biggest competitor is not another company.  Instead, most deals get lost to the status quo.  A company just can’t overcome inertia to take action and make change.

If you look at most B2B messaging, it’s no surprise.  Most B2B marketing is nothing but rational appeals.  In technology for example, claims of 25% reduced costs, or 50% workload reduction, accelerated performance and better, next-gen solutions are everywhere.  A white paper here, a webinar there, an animated “How It Works” video, and voila, you have a complete set of the modern B2B marketing deliverables, all focused on making a data-driven, factual argument to convince prospects to engage.  These rational benefits are now so generic that the web sites have become cookie cutter experiences.  Drop in a new logo, adjust the percentage improvement in time/cost/productivity here and there and you can pretty much interchange web sites of many competitors.  The newest addition to the rational love train is the infographic, which most companies use simply to pack more numbers and facts into a smaller space.

The problem is that decision-making is not a rational process.  In a famous study, Antonio Damasio looked at decision-making among people who’d suffered damage to the centers of emotion in the brain.  These people were able to identify options for their decisions, and weigh the pros and cons of each, without any problem.  They just couldn’t pull the trigger and actually make a decision.  Even simple things, like where to eat for lunch, generated an endless internal debate, with no winner.

Turns out the act of making decisions is an emotional one.  We must feel something in order to make a choice.  Humans seem to have an emotional memory of sorts, that reminds us of feelings we experienced from previous decisions, and helps guide our making choices. Without that gut instinct, people flounder, flip flop and stall out.

The implications for marketing and sales are enormous.  To generate clicks, get conversions, take meetings and ultimately close deals, we need to better understand the emotions our prospects experience.  The “gut reaction” is what we are looking for.  More data, more rational appeals, more charts, infographics and logical presentations just add noise to the system.  Inundated with information, prospects are very much like the study subjects who can process the data, and understand its implications, but can’t muster the courage to actually take action.

To overcome the inertia, marketers have to begin conversations with a more emotional appeal, instead of layering on the rational.  They must ladder up their message to help dimensionalize what reducing costs by 25% or speeding a process by x days does for the individual and the company.  Does that reduce tension and stress among their team?  Does that make the department rediscover pride in their work?  Does it allow them to shift their focus to something that’s more valuable?  Painting a picture of the world after they use your product is what provides the impetus to actually commit to change.  Finding that emotional key will be much more likely to unlock the purchase than simply making rational claims.

That’s not to say the rational part of marketing doesn’t have a place in converting prospects.  It’s not like you can tug at heartstrings and immediately watch the sales rack up.  But the logical, data-driven information can’t be the central communication.  The rational, reasoned approach has to support the larger emotional appeal.  It has to substantiate the emotional claim that you’re making.  It can’t replace the emotional appeal.  Unless, of course, you prefer NOT to increase conversion, generate leads and close more deals.  THAT would be a very irrational decision.

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