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.

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