5 Ways Emotions Guide Online Decision-Making

When making a decision, most of us like to think we use logic and reason to come to a conclusion. However, research shows that emotions are a larger factor than logic. Although economic theory argues information, logical reasoning, and knowledge contribute to optimal decision-making, psychologists defend The Somatic Marker Hypothesis, which is the idea that emotions alone guide our choices.

Emotions guide the simple decisions and the big decisions. Even political leaders and CEOs are led by their emotions when resolving important matters. It may be obvious that emotions guide decisions like choosing to tell someone we love them, but how does emotional decision-making affect purchasing decisions? More specifically, how does emotional decision-making affect online sales?

People get distracted during in-person interactions by factors such as the surroundings, body language and personality of the employees, or the look and feel of the product/service. Someone might buy a car because the salesperson makes him feel confident and safe. However, browsing for products/services online doesn’t provide the same distractions. Online shoppers must use a different set of information to answer the question - is this product/service valuable, worthy of time and money, and logical to purchase? With 80% of search queries being informational, it seems that people online are more likely to focus on facts and data than on emotion.

So is the process of decision-making different for online sales compared to in-person sales? Are we more inclined to use logical judgment over emotions when weighing the value of an online purchase? The power of emotional decision-making should not be underestimated, even with a digital approach to marketing. This post will explain how to leverage these items in your digital strategy. Keep in mind that human emotion should never be taken lightly and that truly understanding and implementing these concepts will build consumer trust and loyalty, but “playing on emotions” can lead to failure and brand avoidance.

1. Reviews

Users love to read reviews. Reading reviews is a form of gathering information about a product. But more than that, it’s insight into how the product made other consumers feel. Did they have a good or bad experience? Would they recommend the purchase? Reading reviews is not an attempt to get facts about the product’s features because that information should be readily available on the website. Reading reviews is about measuring the emotion of previous purchasers. Reviews make people feel better about their decision and it’s not necessarily based on facts alone.

Tip: Encourage reviews for your product/service. Include CTAs that link back to popular review sites and respond promptly to negative reviews. Although many businesses fear reviews because the possibility of negativity, studies show that responding to these reviews is highly beneficial. User-generated content should be embraced and used to build trust and reliability in a brand.

2. Recency and Repetition

Remember the psychological recency effect. Above quality and knowledge comes recency. People are more likely to remember the information they last saw or heard. Quantity and repetition of a company’s brand name leads to a higher likelihood the consumer remembers it. This concept directly applies to search engines and the shelf space for a company on Google. If a user searches several different queries about the same topic, and the same brand keeps coming up (maybe even in the paid and organic search results), the user is going to remember that brand. According to the recency effect, if a brand is the last one seen by a consumer it’s more likely to be remembered. Similarly, the mere exposure effect says increasing the number of times a brand name is seen increases the chance of it being remembered. Recency and exposure together increase the chances of being clicked and reinforce the brand’s trustworthiness in the user’s mind.

Tip: Obviously spamming consumers repetitively with your products and services is no way to gain trust. But Google is smart. Brands that show up in organic search results deserve to be there. Consumers trust that Google will find answers to their queries, so if the same brand consistently appears for different keywords, users believe the brand is a solution to their problem. The main purpose of calling the recency and mere exposure effects to attention is to reinforce the importance of SEO and PPC as components of a successful digital strategy, and the role that emotions and the human brain play in making these components effective.

3. Brand Name and Story

Let’s transition to the emotional impact of brand name. A good brand story, personality, and energy can push a consumer from maybe to yes. What does it take to get the consumer to choose your brand over a competitor? An emotional reason – a compelling, powerful differentiator. This could mean environmental-friendliness or support of a charitable cause or maybe just that your brand is cool or funny. Take Beats versus Bose, for example. There are plenty of facts that can prove Bose’ superiority to Beats in terms of quality, but the story remains – Beats are cooler than Bose. Beats may be more expensive; Bose may have better sound quality – but Beats are by Dre. Even online, brand name transcends rationality. However, in most cases brand loyalty is earned from a history of reliability and trustworthiness with the brand itself.

Tip: Your brand should tell a story. Your brand should stand for something. What is the purpose behind your brand other than the product/service you’re selling? A good brand story paired with an excellent history of reliability will result in loyal customers who will choose your brand over a competitor even if they have to drive farther or pay more for it. They’ll choose your brand even when it doesn’t make logical sense – because it makes emotional sense.

4. Brand Voice

Brand voice is an element of brand story. Take Taco Bell, for example. Taco Bell sells cheap tacos – but “cheap” may not be enough to get everyone in their target audience through the door. Taco Bell is one of the funniest brands on Twitter. They put jokes on their hot sauce packets and their commercials are hilarious. This differentiates them from other fast food restaurants because Taco Bell has a personality. Brands with personality connect with their audiences. Also, having a tone of voice for your brand provides consistency, which psychologically makes people feel more comfortable and trusting. Voice makes a brand feel human.

Tip: Create a brand voice for your business and use it consistently across your website, social platforms, and among employees. Similar to brand story, voice gives your brand purpose beyond just sales. Create a brand voice to show your audience you’ve put effort into understanding their likes and dislikes, and you’re trying to solve their problems and connect with them – not just sell your product/service.

5. User Experience

Users should be able to easily find what they’re looking for on your site. The quicker they get where they want to go, the more likely they are to convert. But you risk more than conversions when your user experience isn’t up to your audience’s standards – you may also lose customers. No one enjoys pogo-sticking through the SERP trying to find something. The Internet has given people an unreasonable impatience and insatiable desire for instant gratification. A poorly designed website is a really easy to way to annoy users. If a user is on a site for a while and it’s difficult to navigate or find what he’s looking for – he’s going to get frustrated, leave and remember the bad experience.

Tip: Optimize your site’s user experience. Don’t bury important items deep within the website or below the fold of the page. Optimize for page speed. Make navigation simple and easy to understand. The easier your website is to comprehend, the happier your visitors will be.

Although the majority of searches are focused on finding information, the actual conversions are largely determined by how the users feel about the brand. This is not to say that logic and reason play no role in online decision-making – that would be a naïve assumption. But it would be unwise to focus strictly on driving conversions based on information and logic without incorporating users’ thoughts and feelings into the strategy. Use these five tactics to connect with and better understand your audience. Your audience will thank you for it!

Written by Michelle Jernigan on October 22, 2015


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Michelle Jernigan