The Psychology of Decision Making

Carrying on from my blog on “corporate shyness”, I’m looking here at the different ways we evaluate information and make decisions. The first thing to say is that this is a big subject and one that others are much better qualified to cover than I am. Myers-Briggs has led much of the work on personality types and if you’re looking for in depth information that is not a bad place to start. But I am going to look at how personality traits influence the way we make decisions and what impact that might have on a marketing strategy aimed at influencing people.

Intuition

Crystal ballPeople who rely on intuition to make decisions typically believe that they see the whole picture.  They feel able to quickly see things in the context of a wider perspective.  When presented with details or detailed arguments, intuitive people will feel uncomfortable or even claustrophobic and will instead lean on what they instinctively believe.

Intuitive people are said to favour products that are positioned as breakthrough or next generation. Strategies like these speak to their self-perceived ability to see trends and to place their decisions in the context of these trends.

Intuitive people are therefore likely to respond well to high-level marketing materials that place a technology or a company in terms of trends or breakthrough strategies. Language that claims and defends a new product category for a company will be appealing to intuitives. Details will likely turn off intuitive people to a particular argument.

Thinkers

The thinkerAs the name suggests, the “Thinkers” classification is one that psychologists use for those amongst us who like to rely on their grey matter to arrive at decisions. They typically have very a highly developed sense of logic and enjoy the analytical element of decision making. Processing data and wading through information is what these people are all about.

When putting propositions to thinkers one should be aware that they will latch onto elements that flow logically. Claims that a product can achieve something without supporting information will be likely to turn Thinkers off. Claims that can be validated using their analytical capabilities will, by contrast, draw them in.

For example

Bad…

“The fastest product in the market”

Good…

“By combining ultra low thickness manufacturing techniques with multi-core processors, our new processors outstrip the competition by a factor of two”

Sensors

5 sensesSensors again like to deal in facts and distrust quickly formed opinions, generalisations and hunches. They prefer to deal in the tangible  raw information that is at hand. Facts are important and Sensors have the ability to wade through a great deal of detail and to see the facts in context.

Sensors enjoy messages and campaigns that allow them to rely on their “senses” and experience to understand. Messages that state facts that are “generally” understood work well with Sensors. Their ability to “know” that these claimed facts are true reinforces and validates their beliefs. “Service Oriented Architectures now dominate architectural design and ACME is the leading exponent…” may appeal to a Sensor because the fact that they “know” that “SOA dominates architectural design..” validates the statement in their mind.

Feelers

FeelingsFeelers are a tough crowd in terms of Business to Business sales and marketing.  They tend to arrive at their decisions by trusting their emotions. Detailed discussions turn them off and instead they are sensitive to the feelings of others.

Third-party recommendations from people that Feelers trust or expert endorsement that “feels” real work well with Feelers.  “Leading CEO Bob Trustworthy says he chose ACME because he trusted the people he was dealing with…” might be an approach that would work but to be honest this is a personality category that matters more in face to face sales situations than in outbound marketing communication.

It’s important to stress that whilst some of these traits discussed here will be dominant, we each of us has a mixture of these personalities traits and are not simply one or another. That said, psychologists do tell us that we fall into one of two broad categories.  We’re either predominantly Perceivers (Intuitives, Sensors) or we predominantly Judge (Thinkers and Feelers).

How does this manifest itself in marketing strategies and tactics?

Well we first have to ask ourselves if it is possible or realistic to create different marketing messages, collateral or  programs for specific personalities. It’s normally the job of the sales team to identify and exploit these personality traits in one-on-one meetings with their prospects. To expect the marketing team to cater individually for each personality type is pretty unrealistic.

It is however critically important to realise that you need balance.  This can be overlooked if your product management/marketing team is good at creating one type of collateral. For example- if the team naturally favours detailed technical specification and performance information, it is essential to realise that some prospects will positively avoid reading such material. Therefore you may need to balance such material with material aimed at other personality types as well.

It is worth stating that personalities types can congregate in specific job roles or even specific industries.  For example, it is common in my experience for there to be more Thinkers than Feelers in the highly technical discipline of software development. But as you move away from the coal face of the overtly technical disciplines and start to look at the management levels in the IT domain, it is my experience that you find people with a rounder set of personality traits.  (I am aware that this appears like a massive and clumsy generalisation – please see the small print below before suing me…)

The small print (Ironic eh?).

Please note that this is not precise science and that wide generalisations have been used to illustrate points. Subtlety and interpretation are critical when dealing with the psychology of product marketing. Lustratus helps technology companies to market themselves more effectively in a business to business context. As such some of the examples in this blog may not be completely relevant to other industries. That said I’m fairly confident that the principles apply across many industries.

Further reading – well anything on differentiation and specifically anything by Al Ries and Jack Trout.  Differentiate or Die by Jack Trout is a good place to start. Detailed information on the Myers Briggs psychometric studies can be found here.

Danny Goodall

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