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Too rational or emotional? Understanding the biology behind decision making

~ by Lidia V


It’s interesting that decision-making lies in using both our emotional and rational sides. Although the emotional side is more dominant, people choose to justify their decision-making rationally. The two are not mutually exclusive and both are very intertwined. If we see an ad in a magazine or on TV, we have the option to either give into the impulsive feeling that drives us to purchase or we can be cautious and slam on the breaks by employing a more logical approach.


Although our emotions originate unconsciously, we can choose our conscious response to them. If the latest Lacoste advert resonated with you emotionally, your brain will automatically start aligning reasoning to support your emotions and beliefs. This is when your “old brain” kicks in and starts to rationalize as to why you need their latest cologne or pair of shoes. Our brain is dominated by the primitive part which largely controls the decision-making process but takes great input from the emotional brain.


Douglas van Praet, a leading brand strategist, management consultant and author, came up with the seven steps to decision-making from a marketing point of view as listed below. He is globally recognized as a pioneer in the application of behavioural science to marketing challenges. Inc. Magazine named his book, Unconscious Branding: How Neuroscience Can Empower (and Inspire) Marketing, one of the “Top Ten Marketing Books.”


1. Interrupt the pattern

The first is getting a consumer to notice your product because you did something unique with it. Nothing focuses our attention better than surprise and novelty. Try your hardest to stay away from homogenous characteristics when developing a product that already exists in the market. What is its point of differentiation and why should someone care?


2. Create comfort

Break down any barriers to entry by making the customer feel extremely comfortable when using your product. Ensure that it is not overly complex and that instructions are easy to follow. If you are creating a site, you know that your navigation should be logical and easy to understand. If you’re selling a DIY desk, ensure that the instructions for assembling it are straightforward and don’t take up too much time.

3. Lead the imagination

Imagination is all about seeing what others don’t see. It’s important to allow someone to discover something for themselves. You might be in the perfume manufacturing business and in the process of rolling out a new irresistible scent. You land up building a brand around the perfume and give it a desirable name. Let your customer imagine how they would feel when wearing your perfume, what change would they experience? When you inspire someone to look inside themselves, it becomes their vision and not yours.

4. Shift the feeling

We are feeling creatures that think. Shifting the feeling refers to when we can inspire a new emotion after the experience a customer just had with our product. They might have felt it – a piece of clothing, analysed it with their eyes – a piece of furniture or inhaled it – an alluring perfume. It is especially important to awaken the heart and not the head.

5. Satisfy the critical mind

The critical mind more commonly referred to as the “old brain” is that part which gives us permission to buy. When it comes to branding any product, you will need to appeal to the customer by providing some logical and factual explanation in a balanced way so customers are convinced. A good example could be an expensive fluoride toothpaste that also offers whitening properties by containing a natural mineral such as activated charcoal.

Logically, you will justify the purchase for a more expensive toothpaste because it has a natural ingredient for whitening and contains less harmful chemicals. Your logical brain is happy with the reasoning (less toxic) while your emotional brain is happy with the whitening effect and the impact this will probably have on your smile and confidence.

6. Changing the associations

We need to be aware about which existing associations consumers may have to your product or service – the negative ones. When associations shift, so do markets. We all learn by association through past experiences and through vast neural networks of associative memory. If we know which past experiences create negative perceptions we want to change, we get closer to understanding how to create more positive associations through solutions that our products or services can provide.

7. Take action

Create an ideal experience for your customer by ensuring that countless positive emotions and sensorial perceptions are present when experiencing your product for the first time. When they experience all these benefits, they will be a step closer to acting. In order to elevate the customer experience, you need to ensure that the customer got what they expected, not what you expected.


Although we like to think that decision making is rational, it’s not. You have probably witnessed family members and friends make decisions that are completely irrational. A perfect example is fast food. It tastes and smells delicious but has truly little health or nutritional benefit. Yet, so many people order fast food such as pizza and burgers on a frequent basis. There is no rational way to justify the growth of fast food among consumers as it’s definitely not attributed to health.


If you’re manufacturing a product, ensure that you’re putting enough thought behind how it works and that it delivers on its brand promise. Marketing cannot solve a product that is inferior in quality through an emotional appeal only. When selling a product, your offer needs to be compelling from both an emotional and rational point of view. Your customers should be able to fall in love with your product or service emotionally and justify it rationally.


And always remember that your customers’ ultimate decision will be based on their self-interest so avoid trying to tell them what to do.



“Solving niche challenges founders face”.


Illustrator: Lisa Williams (Instagram: @artist_llw)

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