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Can You Feel It?

Millions are spent each year on scientific research aiming to increase our knowledge and understanding of how the brain works. But at this moment in time, we know more about space than we do about how our brains function.

In his brilliant book - Alchemy - Rory Sutherland (co-founder of the behavioural science practice at Ogilvy & Mather) explores how some things that don’t make any sense work and some things that make perfect rational sense don’t work at all.

He writes: “…while we know how we feel, we cannot accurately explain why”

I remember viewing houses with my wife years ago. We were organised and had a checklist of criteria that we would like for our ideal home: a very rational methodology. As we walked around a house that ticked almost all of the boxes (we were never going to tick them all on our budget) my wife looked at me and said “it doesn’t feel right”.

With those four words uttered I knew that we would never buy the house. It didn’t matter that it had the right amount of bedrooms or a south-facing garden. The number of parking spaces and size of the reception rooms was irrelevant.

It didn’t “feel” right. So we left and never talked about that property again. No arguments, no attempts at persuasion, no tallying up the house against the rational criteria.

We looked at many more houses and some of them didn’t “feel” right for me either. But neither of us questioned that emotional response to the biggest purchase of our lives. If one of us said those words then we simply left and moved on to the next viewing.

What strikes me as crazy is not only the woeful lack of vocabulary we have to explain these emotions but also the fact that we know that there is no changing the mind of someone when things don’t “feel” right.

Like houses, the majority of our purchases are emotional. Whether it’s washing powder or professional services, chocolate or technology; our subconscious makes the decision and our conscious rationalises it for us, providing us with sensible reasoning for our purchase.

Sutherland states: “For a business to be truly customer-focused, it needs to ignore what people say. Instead it needs to concentrate on what people feel.”

Some brands are excellent at communicating a feeling: Nike is full of energy and passion; Apple is beautiful and effortless; The Economist is intelligent; the Co-Op is community-centric; Landrover is strong and sturdy. These attributes are vital to their success - they are what trigger our emotional responses and inform our decision-making processes.

So what do people feel about your brand? Does it convey a sense of history and stability? Is it trustworthy? Perhaps it’s exciting and new? Or maybe it’s all about intelligence and expertise?

Hopefully your brand conveys something, otherwise it’s a load of bullet points trying to appeal to people’s rational minds… and if all of our purchasing decisions are made emotionally then that’s going to dramatically limit the ability for your business to grow.

Author Al Mitchell