Feeling is believing

Have you ever adjusted the thermostat in a cold meeting room only to experience no noticeable change in temperature? It’s possible the dial was in fact a placebo, installed to counteract the damaging effect of thermostat wars.

Wars begin when rival employees continuously adjust the heating to suit their own personal preferences, overloading the system and ultimately breaking it.

Nobody really knows how many dummy thermostats exist in the workplace, but when a trade magazine for the heating and ventilation industry ran a survey of installers, 73% admitted they had fitted at least one.

One installer reported that people “felt better” even when in reality they were simply turning a disconnected dial. The placebo, the installer said, was also good for business, cutting down the number of service calls by more than 75 per cent.

Strange as it seems, the illusion of control is often more powerful than the reality. People love to feel in control, even when we’re powerless.

Control is an emotion – and for some, an intoxicating feeling – that B2B marketers are learning to master.

Consider the evolution of Big Data. Back in 2005, as the number of social and digital tools grew, companies got used to dealing with rising quantities of data. But as volumes got out of hand Big Data suddenly looked impossible to control – at least without shiny new business intelligence software. Enter data analytics, and a whole new industry of Big Data solutions.

But the mountain of data kept growing. And CIOs were getting concerned about the budgets required to upgrade to servers big enough to house all that new data. The chaos required a new solution – cloud storage. Through the cloud, CIOs could keep adding capacity to a near-infinite degree, and the feeling of control was restored.

Lots of technology is sold via the illusion of control. Productivity software, for example, as well as financial services, such as banking and insurance. In the consumer world, think about the giant market for diet advice.

But of course, real control is a myth. We never have a full grip. That’s why mergers tend to fail, stocks go up as well as down and recessions are inevitable.

Psychologists believe that power warps our sense of control even further, which is why presidents underestimate the resources required to win wars and star traders end up making the biggest losses.

Real control might be out of reach much of the time, but the ability to fabricate control is important.

Many of us are driven by the need to believe we can control outcomes that are uncontrollable, whether we sit in the boardroom or on the production line.

Without at least a vague sense that we can control events, entrepreneurs would never start companies, and doctors would never devote half their careers to training.

Control is a trick. But as marketers we should learn to harness the power of illusion. Feeling is believing.

What really drives people to purchase?

Have you ever been too scared to jump? When our senses are overwhelmed, we struggle to think clearly. Too much emotion makes it difficult to act.

What many people don’t realise is that a lack of emotion can affect us in the same way. If we can’t feel, we can’t act.

When Nokia found itself significantly behind rivals Google and Apple, CEO Stephen Elop stood in front of employees and delivered a speech that no one expected and many still remember, 10 years later.

There is a blazing fire around us, said Elop, comparing Nokia’s market position to a man on a burning oil platform. As the man looked down over the edge, said Elop, “all he could see were the dark, cold, foreboding Atlantic waters” beneath him.

Should Nokia remain on the platform, waiting to be consumed by fire? Or should the company make a leap into the unknown?

The burning platform speech became famous because it preceded a bold change in strategy, but also because Elop had recognised an inalienable rule of behaviour change: without emotion, we are motionless.

B2B communications is finally discovering its senses. And for good reason.

Each decision maker represents a different set of emotional requirements that marketers need to fulfil: reassuring the risk-averse CFO, empowering the land-grabbing CMO, galvanising the strategic HR director.

It would be wrong, though to assume that emotion trumps the rational. In fact, head and heart have a more collaborative role to play than many of us realise.

How do you sell a piece of automation software to a finance department? To the CFO, automation is a rational decision: the removal of laborious processes makes everybody more efficient.

But how do you get the department to use the tool? Users may see things differently to buyers. And the flipside of efficiency is spare capacity. Would jobs be at risk?

For users, the hook is emotional. Invoice processing is the most mind-numbing of all tasks. Nobody wants to spend their days locked in an endless process cycle. Let the machines do the dull work and free up the staff for more creative tasks.

So what really drives professionals to buy? No decision is made in isolation. On average, each major purchase is influenced by seven different people, each with their own influences, fears and biases.

Sometimes we’re too frightened to jump. And sometimes, we’re not frightened enough.

Feeling something means everything. All it takes is a push.