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Economics of Emotions: The Vital Role They Play In Business

Economics of Emotions

Let me illustrate a problem that many small businesses can relate to. When we were just starting out as a “little-tech-company-that-could,” we struggled to properly market ourselves right out of the gate. For example, we once had a customer tell us, “If your company designed a Coca-Cola can, it would be a white can with black list of ingredients.”

Let me be the first to say – ouch. But why did that impression exist?

Because we were struggling to tap into the emotional aspect behind our products and the reasons people use them. To illustrate this point, consider Dove’s “Like a Girl [1]” campaign.  In those commercials, the director plays an active role with the subject, asking her (or him) to play out certain ideas of “acting like a girl” and what that means to them. Not only do we see the immediate reaction of the subject when they’re shown images of how real girls run, walk and fight, but also how we – as viewers – have had our perceptions warped as well.

They’re not just selling a product, but visually demonstrating and reinforcing an important idea and revealing flaws we didn’t know we had. Oftentimes, what will draw people in is not the product itself, but the emotions that are conjured from the marketing message, convincing consumers they have a need they didn’t even know they had.

And that is the sweet spot in which we find where the emotional resonance lies.

Effectively Marketing Your Brand

The key to effectively market your brand is to understand the emotional reasons that drive a person to do what they do. For example, why does one buy a hammer? A simple response would be to hammer a nail. The emotional reasons, as always, are a little more complex. For example, is it to build a tree house? Is it to build a new home? Or maybe it’s to hang up a picture of a newborn child.

All of these are quick ways to relate an item as simple as a hammer to a person’s sense of family and home.

In our case with software, we’ve learned to consider the emotion behind why a company would choose to start their search for our product in the first place:

Understanding the answers to these questions is where the secret to effectively marketing our product lies.

The Science Behind a Purchase

But what about the science behind an intellectual purchase? Just how often do people buy based off facts alone? It’s more often than you think. According to [2] Kathryn Gillett of MarketingProfs, the roots of an emotional buy versus a logical one stem from a very obvious place – the human brain:

“In regards to intellect versus emotion, our brains are hardwired to give emotions the upper hand. Information—in the form of words and data—is processed in the neo-cortex. Meanwhile, all our emotions are rooted in the limbic system…The limbic brain has no capacity for language. That means no amount of information can motivate someone to buy.”

Going one step further, how high is the ratio of emotional-purchase versus factual? According to [3] Peter Noel Murray, PhD and expert on Psychology Today, emotional buys are knocking it out of the park:

“Advertising research reveals that emotional response to an ad has far greater influence on a consumer’s reported intent to buy a product than does the ad’s content – by a factor of 3-to-1 for television commercials and 2-to-1 for print ads.”

Ever think an extra psychology class or two would have come in handy to understand buyer behavior?

We received our own lesson (years after the Coca Cola can analogy) in the importance of understanding consumers and their emotional motives when we heard from a customer on why she purchased our software.

Her reason? She felt “out of control.”

She needed to reject inaccurate time slips, and include a reason for the rejection and how the employee could correct it. Because the software they were using at the time didn’t provide this functionality, she had to manually take the time slip to the individual, explain the problem and wait for them to correct it. The whole process was a massive time-suck on her work day as well as the employees. Even worse, the process took her away from getting more important things accomplished in her job.


In view of these examples, the key to good marketing is in understanding why a person needs your products. Not just the basic, intellectual reasons, but the underlying emotional component. Once you know that, tailor your marketing accordingly.

Likewise, even with established employees, understanding the reasons and emotions behind their actions will help you better understand their needs and ultimately lead to smoother operations.

Happy [4] Photo via Shutterstock