Are our decisions really our own? This week we explore decision making and how brands influence our thinking.

Be the no-brainer brand

Good enough is enough for most people. Here's why that matters to your brand and its coercion tactics.

Andy

Creative

Brand Expression

4 minute read

We’re going to start with a brain teaser that's been taken straight from the pages of Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman1:

A bat and ball costs $1.10.
The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball.
How much does the ball cost?

Pop your answer on the shelf. While it's there, let's take a look at a concept known as cognitive ease.
In short
  • Our brains are lazy and will almost always take the path of least resistance.
  • This impacts the way customers make decisions and the threshold marketers have to meet to make them feel ‘satisficed’.
  • Brands don’t have to be the best choice – just the easiest.
Cognitive ease, what is it?
I'll give you an example. Imagine you’re building a new computer desk. You need a very specific allen key to screw the legs in, but in front of you, there’s a hundred different ones to choose from.

If you're anything like me (i.e. lazy), instead of digging your way through the stack to find the right key, you'll settle for one that just gets the job done.

That’s because humans hate thinking critically about things. We take the path of least resistance. God knows why, but engaging the critical parts of our brain is not fun. The way our brains have evolved, in combination with how bombarded we are with information every day, means that we grasp at simplified answers to make challenging questions easier to answer.

Now you know that, take another look at our brain teaser:

A bat and ball costs $1.10.
The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball.
How much does the ball cost?

You sure you’ve got the right answer?
Do my customers have lazy brains?
Kind of, yeah. Customers will mostly make their decisions based on cognitive ease when they’re faced with that stack of allen keys, they’ll choose the one that does the job, not the one that’s ideal.

In other words, when something satisfies their needs, and is sufficient, they’ll choose it. This makes them satisficers.


“Humans hate thinking critically about things. We take the path of least resistance. God knows why, but engaging the critical parts of our brain is not fun.”

So what’s this mean for marketers?
Heaps! Everyone in your team gets affected by this.

Let’s start with the Product team. I’ll give you an example from Spotify, who’ve completely overlooked the effects cognitive ease could have on their product proposition.

They’ve created a very handy 'On Repeat' playlist. At first, I loved this feature. But after cranking my ‘On Repeat’ playlist for weeks on end  – because it was satisficing – I'm bored of my Spotify.

Spotify, whose home page promises me ‘millions of songs and podcasts’, have whittled that amazing catalogue down to a playlist of 30. I’m bored, and I’m too lazy to change my behaviour to searching the platform for new music.

Lately, I've been turning to Bandcamp to get my new music fix.
That’s Product, what about everyone else?
Cognitive ease has grander implications for how you compete in the marketplace too. If a Coca-Cola customer is at KFC and they need a drink, they'll settle for Pepsi.

The reason for this is the closely linked concept of 'availability'. It’s introduced in Byron Sharp's book How Brands Grow,2 in which he argues that there are two forms of availability: mental and physical. Mental availability is how easily the product is recalled in your memory. Physical availability is how easy it is to pick up and purchase.

When thought of this way, Coca-Cola and Pepsi have two very different challenges. In Western countries like Australia, we see Coke everywhere –  so its physical and mental availability is incredibly strong.

Pepsi's challenge is to make it easier for the customer to choose them by boosting their distribution and advertising – making them both more physically and mentally available than Coke.

In the context of our KFC example, Coke have a physical availability problem. The customer can't get it, so they choose the easy route of Pepsi instead.
So, back to our brain teaser…
A bat and ball costs $1.10.
The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball.
How much does the ball cost?

Sure you've got it? Okay. Let's break it down:

The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. So the bat costs $1.05, and the ball is $0.05. I asked you to think of that problem three seperate times in this article. If you were like most people, cognitive ease decided your answer was $0.10 the whole time.

In categories where most brands do the same thing, a customer will usually think once before making a decision to purchase. Not twice, not three times. Once. Make sure your brand is the one that’s easier to choose, both through mental and physical availability, and you’ll be onto a winner.

on Maximisers vs Satisficers
But what if you’re a person who isn’t easily satisficed? While saticficers go with their gut, happy with their decisions being ‘good enough’, not everybody makes decisions like this. If you’re a perfectionist who weighs choices carefully but procrastinates on endless possibilities, then you could be a maximiser. Take our quiz to decide.

How do you make decisions?

Take the quiz to discover if you’re a maximiser or satisficer.   

Rank the following questions on a scale of 1-5, 1 being strongly disagree and 5 being strongly agree. Remember to keep a running tally of your score.

 

  1. I am very unhappy with the life I have.
  2. I set myself high standards to live up to.
  3. Sometimes I feel disappointed in my decisions if the outcome is not as rewarding as I had hoped.
  4. I find it difficult to learn from my mistakes and I often dwell on them.
  5. We always need to make the right decisions, all of the time.
  6. I’d prefer to delay a decision than make the wrong one.
  7. I like to have a wide range of options and research them heavily.

References
  1. Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow (2013) Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
  2. Byron Sharp, How Brands Grow: What Marketers Don't Know (2010) Oxford University Press. 

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