According to author David Brooks, decision-making involves three things: how we perceive a situation; how we evaluate whether action is in our own interest; and how we use our willpower to act.
Over the years, the willpower aspect has been emphasized in marketing. "Just say no." "Just do it." However, it seems that simply willing it usually doesn't make it happen.
The second aspect, involving the power of reason, is used quite a bit in advertising, as well. Proof that a laundry detergent gets out stains. Testimony that seat belts save lives. Demonstrations that an American luxury car can go faster than a German luxury car. Even so, a lot of people prefer a detergent that smells clean to them. They sit on their seat belts, and prefer a car that says they're sophisticated drivers.
Today, research is learning more about the importance of how we perceive things. Perceptions trigger the other reactions, and are fundamental in our responses. Here's an example:
A few years ago, my advertising agency was hired by the Oakland, California, Police Department to help them recruit. Most of the meetings were held in our conference room, but when the Chief of Police had to make a final decision, the meetings were held at Police Headquarters.
I've never been good at taking meeting notes, because I'm too focused on what's going on. So I make sure someone else from the agency is there with me to be the scribe. For one of the meetings at Police Headquarters, I asked our traffic manager, Elyse.
After going through security and getting to the Chief's conference room, we found ourselves surrounded by police. I felt calm and secure, knowing how well we were protected.
Elyse, on the other hand, was a basket case, anxious and unnerved. After the meeting I asked her what was wrong. "The police --- they had guns!" She had barely been able to take notes.
Differences in perception. Police=good, or police=bad. Our perceptions are based on a lifetime of input; what we've been taught, what we've experienced, a book we've just read. In fact, in many cases it's fair to say perceptions rule. Do you eat oysters?
How does your marketing target perceive your products and the arguments you use? You'd better know. Perception can make a person just say no when just doing it can be in their best interests.