Emotion Outperforms Rational Outreach
Are pet food purchase decisions rational and considered? No. Here’s why…
Ever wandered through a pet store and noticed the similarity in how brands present themselves and their benefits? The focus on ingredients, nutrition advancements, and percentages of real meat-based protein dominate the conversation.
For the most part, these rational arguments in favor of the competing brands are an outgrowth of a long-held, pervasive view that decision-making is largely a rational act.
We know that’s completely wrong.
Examining the latest studies in behavioral economics, neuroscience and psychology reveal we’ve generally constructed pet marketing on the wrong foundation over the last 20 years. Turns out, human beings operate on two brain systems – the ‘effortless’ sub-conscious and the ‘effortful’ conscious and learning brain.
Here’s the headline:
System 1 – The Nonconscious Brain – is actually in charge of our actions and decisions. And the rational System 2 side routinely defers to its non-rational cousin on a daily basis.
Why does this matter? Because fact-based presentations of information and data play almost no role in the purchase decision. We don’t recognize this is happening because, yes, it’s subconscious.
Pet food organizations work overtime to refine and improve their nutrition profiles, enhance the quality of their ingredient sourcing, optimize their formulations for a healthier pet – and then tout the efforts they’re making. Ironically, all of it largely ignored by System 1. Instead this information comes round in the post-purchase environment as a justifier for making the right decision and remaining loyal.
Is the commitment to superior nutrition a wasted effort? No, it is fundamental to brand efficacy and the outcomes for pet health and wellbeing. But this is a different issue from what actually drives purchase.
System 1 has all the fun
Nonconscious System 1 is capable of processing up to 11 million bits of information per second; System 2 just 40. Thus, our subconscious is far more intuitive, smart and capable than we’ve given it credit for previously. Here’s how it operates:
- Acts without deliberate analysis
- Generates impressions, feelings and inclinations
- Exerts powerful influence on choices and judgments
- Drives the options we choose; originates the actions we take
This news may rankle pet food C-suite executives who pour such energy and investment into the rational argument stream on nutrition and ingredients. However, this does not mean that purchase decisions are subject to mere whim.
Here are six insights that help optimize and influence System 1 conditions:
1. The Exposure Effect
Science proves we have a natural inclination to favor what comes most easily to mind. In fact, we imbue brands that are familiar to us with a host of beneficial qualities. It’s not the features and facts that are driving this, rather it’s the familiarity.
This desire for familiarity prompts planning a holistic, multi-channel media strategy that’s always on and aimed at breeding awareness. To help along this path, it’s important to deploy sticky, memorable phrases and ideas.
2. The Power of Social Proof
We are drawn to prefer products other people like and endorse –whether in a live setting or online. We make positive assessments of brands that are well liked and recommended.
Our depth of affection grows with perceived popularity.
3. The Primacy of Emotion
System 1 responds to emotional communication because it uses emotion. So a surprising, personal, heart-rending story from a pet parent is far more effective than a surprising statistic.
The goal of pet care marketing is to fulfill one of the most important motivations for buying a high quality pet food – the expression of love for your pet. Emotional tugs are far more powerful than rational reasons.
4. Role of Reciprocity and Reward
We are hardwired to reciprocate in the presence of unexpected and magnanimous acts. If we want to ask pet parents to do something, to take action, make a donation, or attend an event – doing something generous and unselfish ahead of the ask will cause reciprocal obligations and behaviors.
Similarly, rewards should be viewed differently. System 1 loves immediate and assured rewards. And rewards that are emotional and social in nature are more motivating than financial.
Case in point – are we motivated by saving 50 cents or being perceived as a smart, caring and sophisticated pet parent?? Are we motivated by the superior nutrition in a bag of kibble or acquiring a path to a healthier, happier pet?
5. Actions more powerful than words
We are impacted by what people and brands do more so than what they say. We place greater stock and belief in actions over words. By tapping into real-world events and experiences, this emotional connection helps make the stories you wish to tell more meaningful
6. System 1 responds to Art
As ad legend David Ogilvy once said: “You cannot bore your customer into buying your product.” System 1 responds positively to artistic expression. So it’s important for brand communications to be clever, interesting and entertaining.
The creative use of words, pictures, sound, style and images can combine virtuously to help make communication compelling and memorable.
System 2 is rarely used
The learning part of our brain isn’t inert. However, it is lazy and allows the subconscious to hold sway over our actions and decisions. Because this is happening outside of our conscious awareness, we don’t really recognize it’s happening.
For example: Was your choice of spouse or significant other truly driven by a deliberate analysis and evaluation of the pros and cons before you took the leap?
Of course it wasn’t. That life-changing decision was based on your feelings, your gut instincts – and that is System 1 at work.
Now we are designing a new go-to-market platform for pet brands that incorporates this new understanding about how people operate. As we respect System 1’s power to drive how people operate, we gain discipline in our marketing approach and confidence in the outcomes of marketing investments.
What do you think?
Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to our blog.
Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. Emergent provides integrated brand strategy, communications and insight solutions to national food, beverage, home and lifestyle companies. Emergent’s unique and proprietary transformation and growth focus helps organizations navigate, engage and leverage consumers’ desire for higher quality, healthier product or service experiences that mirror their desire for higher quality lifestyles. For more information, contact [email protected] and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.