emotion vs logic – why we buy
BMW or Skoda? French Connection or M&S? Chrome or IE?
These are not simply matters to be answered by reviewing the price, features, popularity and then making a rational decision. These decisions same something about who we are, even if we don’t know it.
A man test-drives an Audi, a BMW and a Mercedes Benz. He then buys the Merc. He was always going to buy the Merc, the other two test drives only allowed him to find issues with the other cars so he can engage in a spot of post-hoc rationalisation. I pointed that out to the man but he denied it and insisted he is a rationalist. Bollox, he is the archetypal Merc driver and has been ever since I have known him. I think he was miffed I pointed out how much time he wasted “pretending” to look at other makes. The BRAND created by Mercedes just fits with who he is.
a tale of two chickens
Marketing professor Raj Raghunathan of the McCombs School of Business points to his research study that shows comparative features are important, but mostly as justification after a buyer makes a decision based on emotional response.
the case of the attractive chicken and the unattractive chicken
In one phase of their study, Raghunathan showed participants two photos. One was a nice looking, plump chicken. The other was a chicken that looked thin and sickly. Participants were told that the plump chicken was a natural chicken, and the thin chicken was genetically engineered.
The researchers informed half of the participants that natural chickens were healthy but less tasty, and genetically engineered chickens were tasty, but less healthy. The other half were told the opposite.
Overwhelmingly, sets of participants expressed a preference for the nice plump chicken, but their justifications were different. The first group claimed it was because they valued health above taste, and the second group said it was because taste was more important. Neither group seemed to justify their choice based on how they felt about the chicken’s looks. They felt compelled to justify their emotional choices with non-emotional reasons, to the point that the two groups found completely opposite ways to justify the same decision.
post-hoc rationalisation in marketing, politics, religion and life in general
Ragunathan said that the researchers tested the same hypothesis using political candidates. Participants were asked to rate the effectiveness of certain work styles displayed by two politicians. Not surprisingly, Republicans tended to value the work style used by the Republican politician, and Democrats valued the work style used by the Democrat. Like the chicken example, different groups were told opposite work styles for each candidate, but each group made their decision based on their pre-conceived political preference, and then justified their decision by whatever trait they had been told “their politician” used.
“This is called post-hoc rationalization,” said Ragunathan, “and it is found in every aspect of our life, whenever we made decisions. We are ruled by our emotions first, and then we build justifications for our response. You can see this happening in hiring decisions, dating, you name it.”
So next time you think you made a rational choice just remember you didn’t.