Our decisions aren’t purely rational

purely rationalLet's go shopping

Imagine you were buying a digital camera.

  • What would your first step be?
  • Would you talk to friends and get input?
  • Would you search for and compare various cameras online?

Imagine you were buying a new car.

  • What would your first step be?
  • Would you talk to friends and get input?
  • Would you search for and compare various cars online?

Imagine you were buying a new house.

  • What would your first step be?
  • Would you talk to friends and get input?
  • Would you search for and compare various floor plans online?

In each case, you might talk to friends, and it's likely you'd use Google to help you do some research and comparisons. But let's talk about the last step in your process. Or one of the last steps.

Let me guess.

You'd head to the store to touch and feel cameras, right? You'd head to the dealership and test drive the car, right? Or you'd do a walk thru of model homes to experience the new home, right?

Why is that our last step?

Because we're not Purely Rational

I think the reason is because, as much as we don't want to admit it, our decisions aren't purely rational and based on data.

Martin Lindstrom has done some interesting research that suggests our senses have a lot more to do with our decision making than we often think about.

Think back to the last time you bought a camera, a car or a new house.

Did you want to hold it? Touch it? Look at it in person to see if it looked good?

Did you want to get in the car? Smell that new car smell (which is actually an aerosol produced at the factory to give you that smell that makes your brain happy)?

We enjoy the experience because of the interactions we have with our senses – touch, smell, look. And we'll often choose products that look and feel right, even if it means we have to rationalize our decision. Suddenly we tell ourselves we really wanted feature X or Y. But what's really happened?

Our senses have helped us make a choice.

Really? Sensory Decision Making?

I thought about Lindstrom's research (and his 2005 book Brand Sense) because of a web hosting company. Strange, huh?

This past weekend I had dinner at a great restaurant in Chandler, Arizona. I enjoyed the dinner as a guest of WP Engine. And this was the second dinner I'd had sponsored by them (the other was in San Francisco last summer). I sat next to two of the partners of webdev studios, who'd also had a dinner in Europe (inside a windmill).

The thing these dinners all have had in common is that they've been coordinated by Tomas Puig.  You may not know Tomas. That's ok. It's not crucial for you to consider this little lesson.

At every meal, we've been treated to incredible food. And great service. But Tomas has done more. He's picked wines that even folks who don't normally like wine enjoy. Drinking wine is a completely sensory activity. So is eating incredible food.

So what's he doing?

I'm sure at this point you're thinking I'm putting way too much thought into a hosting company inviting some partners and customers to a dinner. Except here's the thing. I know two things.

  1. I know that Lindstrom has done the research to prove that we make buying decisions based on our sensory experiences.
  2. And I know that Tomas is meticulous and strategic in every decision he makes.

So I know it's not chance that he helps reinforce the brand they've already developed while creating sensory experiences.

Are you creating striking experiences?

I was talking this past weekend with John Hawkins of 9seeds. He mentioned walking into a company's “board room” to find that on the walls they had custom skateboards with their client's logos on them.

John was so impressed he asked for the details of the company that made them and got some made for his own team as Christmas presents.

Can you imagine stepping into a boardroom or the office of one of your vendors to see your name or logo done in such a creative way? It would be a sensory experience without question. Because it's unexpected. And visually striking.

So what does this mean for you?

What can you do to make your office more striking? What can you do to create experiences with your customers? When you have that first interaction with a new client, are you controlling the smells, looks and sounds of that first impression?

Silly questions. I know. It feels so crazy to have to think about those things when we're normally competing on experience, features or price. But then we set up that first meeting at Starbucks where we have to be loud just to hear each other. Or we meet in a sterile office and wonder why our first encounter didn't feel “warm.”

So do me a favor:
Consider the entire experience as you engage your customers.