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You Decide On Emotion, Confirm With Facts

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It’s a well known advertising and marketing fact that human beings make decisions based on emotion and then confirm it with facts. It’s why salespeople are taught to sell benefits (how something helps you, what problems of yours it solves) rather than features (this thing can do this or that). Some sales tips say that rather than straight up selling benefits, get your prospect worked up and emotional about their problems… then hit them with benefits or solutions to those problems.

Emotions sell and facts confirm.

Want a prime money example of this idea at work? Consider Dave Ramsey’s snowball approach to paying off debt, it’s mathematically sub-optimal. By sub-optimal, I mean his approach does not result in the least amount of interest being paid and the shortest payback period. His approach states that you pay the smallest balance first, then take that payment and add it to the next smallest, etc. The optimal approach is to pay the highest interest rate balance first, and then moving to the next, the next.

His snowball approach has a huge number of supporters because it appeals to emotion (and the psychology of motivation). You feel the happiness of progress, of paying off your mountain of debt, of not feeling like you’ll be in debt forever. Those feelings are very real and they are exceptionally motivational. The approach is backed up with facts too. While not mathematically the best, it works. You might pay more in interest but the end result is that you will be debt free and thousands have achieved this with this approach.

Another great example is whenever you buy a car. Car salespeople want you to get into the car and drive it, to make a connection with the vehicle and for you to picture yourself driving it. They want you to imagine yourself strapping your kids into the back, packing the trunk with your golf clubs or your vacation gear, and driving it down the street with the top down. Once you’ve imagined that, they take you into the showroom and give you the facts. You find out how much trunk space it has, how many cup holders, its horsepower, the fuel efficiency, and finally the price. If you can afford it, and sometimes if you can’t, the facts merely confirm whether or not you want the car. If you don’t like how it handles or can’t see yourself driving it around, the MPG and horsepower won’t matter. The facts just confirm your decision, a decision made on emotion.

Is it wrong to be swayed by emotion? No, unless you begin bending facts to justify a decision. Think about the political party affiliation on your voter registration card – mine says Democratic Party. Does that mean you blindly justify everything your candidate says? My emotion says that Barack Obama wants to bring change to Washington. I firmly believe he does want to bring change, however he, and his advisors, carefully planned his actions over the last two years such that he’d be at his political peak right now. He might be new to Washington but he’s not new to the same old Washington politics. I could easily take that idea and say that Obama is new to politics but his advisors aren’t, but I think that’d be naive of me to believe. He might be new, but he picked up on it real quick.

Just be aware that you decide on emotion and confirm with facts, that alone will protect you in many ways.

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5 Responses to “You Decide On Emotion, Confirm With Facts”

  1. For many years I’ve looked at the strange dichotomy that seemed to exist between emotions and “just the facts, ma’am”.

    Emotions always seemed so, well, emotional; like they could be the cause of self-deception unless a person was so in tune with their emotions that they were beyond reasoning in conversation (apparently enlightened, but lacked skills to communicate in an objective conversation. An example is paraphrase of the cliche’: “He’s so heaven bound that he’s no earthly good”).

    It’s only been recently that I’ve come to a satisfactory reasonable conclusion regarding emotions: Our emotions are based upon our values; those things we choose to adopt as our personal hierarchal system of ethics. When we’re not conscious of our values, we can often hold belief systems that conflict with each other. This can lead to an emotional train-wreck.

    When our values are clearly established, we have a ‘better’ gauge to judge and value the facts. But just as due diligence of our values is essential to a clear picture as to the value of facts, due diligence as to what are facts and what are untruths is essential to our reaching a conclusion that also conforms to reality (which is why I oppose the Obama camp, since you brought it up, Jim).

    If we, as individuals, deduce our values to their foundations, most of us are quite similar. If we can also clearly separate facts from look-alikes (e.g. mistakes, coercion, deception), then the main differences in opinions between men and women is found in our ideas for best realizing those values.

    Thanks for the post, Jim. I think I just wrote my next one. ;-)

  2. Dave says:

    Dave C,

    I think some emotions are the result of values instilled by parents, teachers, church, etc. But I think these are the easiest for people to identify, because often times they have been spelled out to us at some point. I think a large part of our emotional response is baser than that; arising from what is left of our animal instincts. The “fight-or-flight” reaction is a good example. This is why when someone “cuts you off” in traffic, you can have an overly exaggerated response, sometimes leading to road rage. This kind of emotional reaction (he got me, now I have to get him) is not logical, yet it happens all the time. I think the fear of loss bias is another instinctual reaction. In my opinion, it has nothing to do with learned or chosen values, but is an extension of our days as savannah-dwelling creatures where food was scarce. In that kind of a situation, having a modest meal to eat was far superior to risking starvation for an exorbitant feast. A similar basal reaction seems to occur nowadays in completely different situations (like investing), and doesn’t necessarily have the same benefit.

    So in a way I agree that it is key to understand how emotions are driving your decisions over and above facts; I just don’t agree that they are based on learned or chosen values.

  3. Glenn Lasher says:

    Let me provide another example.

    Around 2002 or so, my wife talked me into getting a TV provider (we were using rabbit ears prior to that point). I studied the three options that were available to me (Time-Warner, Dish Network, DirecTV) and decided that I liked Dish the best of the three, for reasons that really aren’t relevant to the end result: specifically, they were using open standards (MPEG video, MPEG or AC3 audio (depending on channel) and DVB) and I wanted to support that. It’s moot, really, because in the end, any of the three providers would put a picture on the screen.

    Additionally, being a small-l liberal, I have a warm spot in my heart for FSTV and Link TV. Link is not carried by T-W, and FSTV is only carried by Dish.

    That decision made, I went out to justify it. I chose to do so economically, by looking at the first two years’ costs for each provider for a package with around 100 channels.

    For cable, that meant digital cable. Time-warner told me that they were running a special, 50% off installation and free activation, plus some discounts on the first two months. There was no equipment cost. The discounted installation was $25, and the discounted first two months were $40 and $50, respectively, and then it would be $60/month from there out.

    For DirecTV, I would have to buy a receiver and dish at a subsidized price of $50, pay no installation or activation fee (and yes, they would install) and then pay $32/month for service.

    For Dish, I would have to buy a receiver for $200, but there was, again, no activation or installation charges (and yes, they, too, would install), and they would give a $22/month discount for the first year of service.

    Bottom lines looked like this:
    Time warner: $25 installation + $40 first month + $50 second month + $60 * 10 months ($600) = $715 first year; $60 * 12 months = $720 second year; two year total = $1435.

    DirecTv: $50 equipment + $32 * 12 months = $434 first year; $32 * 12 months = $384 second year; two year total = $818

    Dish: $200 equipment + $9 * 12 months = $308 first year; $31 * 12 months = $372 second year; two year total = $680

    Now, in another example, I have, actually, allowed emotion to win out on my choice of ISP. Ironically, my ISP is none other than Time-Warner, who have provided me a nice, clean, reliable, fast connection most of the time, and I am refusing to allow Verizon to sway me to change it, because I have a negative gut emotional reaction to signing contracts for service.

  4. rdzins says:

    Everything has an emotional charge to it. If you step out of the emotion and run the numbers (such as a car purchase vs keeping old red) you probably will come up with the solution running the numbers several ways that old red is really the best deal. BUUUTTT………….. well lets face it, I don’t look good in old red and not everything in old red works like it used to, but it still does provide me with reliable transportation, but I would look much better in that shiny new red one that everything works on!! So there is always some emotion that does play on that, and sooner or later it will have to be replaced. Where is the line?

    Salesman play on our emotions by saying hurry, limited time, and without thinking we rush in to get the great deal.

    Look at how our kids can all of a sudden want something after watching Saturday morning cartoons, something that they did not even know existed the day before.

    Emotions are huge, there based on our values and ideas along with what we think of ourselves and what we want others to think of us. It is my biggest money crutch.

  5. @Dave. Thanks for taking the time to comment on my comment.

    I agree with you that there are basic survival-mode instincts that can be a part of our myriad of emotional responses. However, Jim’s original comment was discussing emotions being a part of our rational lives, in our decision making; rather than knee-jerk reactionary behavior. Thus, my comments focused on emotions in that direction.

    I will disagree, however, that the emotions resulting from values instilled by parents, teachers, etc. are the easiest for people to identify. I agree that these types of values must be learned and then adopted by the individual. Since the values of our different “teachers” can differ greatly, or they themselves may hold conflicting values, such as, for instance, in issues of ethics that have become increasingly clouded over time. Few of us sit down to take inventory of what our values are, precisely. Thus our value systems can be quite convoluted and conflicting without giving much thought to the subject, ourselves.

    It’s quite possible that it’s because of this inner conflict that we may “short circuit” our would-be logical response and default to giving that guy who cut us off the finger and the dirtiest look we can muster (did I cut you off, Dave? Was that you? Sorry ’bout that.) ;-) But, those who are practiced at being ‘reasonable’ might override those base instincts with more civilized actions.
    –/DC


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