Why understanding emotional motivation is the key to post COVID business success

This is a guest blog by friend of ORESA Andy Brent. Andy is an experienced board director and business growth specialist. He is the co-founder of Think Again Growth and the author of ‘The Growth Director’s Secret’, published by Bloomsbury. He has 30 years’ experience in senior marketing and strategy roles in the UK, Europe and Asia and has worked at corporations including P&G, Boots, Barclays Bank, Sky Broadcasting and Hutchison Whampoa.

Is that a glint of light at the end of the tunnel? 

For the first time for many weeks, the government is beginning to make positive noises about moving out of lockdown and returning to something closer to ‘business as usual’.

But what does that mean for your business? And how can you ensure you are one of the post-COVID winners?

The first point to make is that post-Covid, growth will be really, really hard to achieve. In a world where most markets will be smaller than pre-coronavirus the only sure way to grow is to build market share. And that means increasing the appeal of your business vs your competitors. But how?

Emotional vs logical

Well if you want to increase consumer appeal the first task is to ensure you understand how your customers make decisions and decide upon preference between competing brands. For this, we turn to the great behavioural economist Daniel Kahneman who, in his 2002 Nobel Prize-winning dissertation showed how almost all human decision-making (and thus almost all customer purchase decisions) is done by our subconscious ‘System 1’ brains driven mainly by emotional, intuitive factors.

Despite the almost 20 years since Kahneman’s Nobel award, its a sad fact that most of the business world still operates on the old-fashioned assumption that customers decide what to buy after careful, rational, conscious assessment of the alternatives. Just plain wrong I’m afraid. Kahneman showed how our preferences are driven by subconscious, emotional motivations – which we then try to post-rationalise to ourselves and others. 

Don’t believe me? Well just take a look at the world of politics where Trump’s entirely emotional, policy-free campaign (‘Make America Great Again’/’Drain The Swamp’/’Build The Wall’) beat Hilary’s relentlessly logical, policy-rich but emotion-free electoral pitch. Or, for an example closer to home see how David Cameron’s data-driven attempt to persuade the country that leaving Europe would damage the economy was trounced by the Leave Campaign’s data-free but highly emotional ‘Take Back Control’.

emotion in choice

The problem for the business world is that the research tools that we have all been using to understand our customers for decades were designed pre-Kahneman and only connect with the conscious part of our brains – not the subconscious ‘System 1’ that makes all the decisions. 

Since Kahneman new technology has emerged that can connect with System 1 – it’s known as ‘Implicit’ research and it’s no harder or more expensive to use than conventional tools. However, call it ignorance, call it inertia – most businesses still make little use of Implicit research tools – and their customer understanding suffers as a result.

How to use ‘Implicit’ research

In essence, the tools work by putting survey respondents under time pressure and then weighting results based upon the speed of response. When pressed, our conscious brains can’t cope and we ‘flip’ to our subconscious ‘System 1’ without realising it. Implicit tools can measure this ‘flip’ and record only the responses from the decision-critical part of our brains. Smart, huh?

And do these tools help? Our experience says that they do. To quote just a few recent examples of clients with whom we’ve deployed these tools:

  •  the retail fashion business in decline was re-positioned and built like-for-like sales +4.3% in 6 months – online business kicked +27%
  •  retail food business, with flat sales in a highly competitive market, built like-for-like sales +5% in 6 months and grew ‘priority category’ sales by around 60%
  •  professional services business improved sales ‘pitch’ success rate from around 20% to just over 80%
  •  tech-driven data business improved sales trends by over 30% in 6 months post our work

If ever there was a time to begin to make use of Implicit research technology it’s now. Growth will be harder than ever before. The coronavirus is scrambling your customer’s attitudes and changing how they feel about their lives, their prospects – and the brands they do business with. You need to understand these changes – conventional research just won’t do it.

So – before your competitors get there ahead of you – get yourselves to a research company that can show you how to make use of Implicit research to understand the subconscious, emotional motivators driving choice amongst customers in your market. The prize for being an early adopter is substantial – the penalty for the laggards will be severe.

If you want to be a post-COVID winner…you know what to do!!

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