How Buyers Make Decisions 

Do you know why your customers chose you? For many small business owners, how buyers make decisions is basically a mystery.

Decision-making is a complex process in the human brain that involves numerous cognitive functions such as attention, memory, and emotion regulation. 

It is influenced by both conscious and subconscious factors and is not as straightforward as we might think. 

Understanding this process can provide a significant advantage for small businesses, helping them develop strategies to influence consumer decisions positively. 

At Create That, we’ve now been using the principles of consumer neuroscience to plan our clients’ marketing campaigns for a year, so I thought it was worth updating what we’ve learned along the way. There have been some surprises!

First, Some Science.

The brain’s decision-making process begins in an area called the prefrontal cortex. This is the area of the brain responsible for what are called “executive functions.” That’s just a fancy way of saying “adulting” activities like planning, paying attention, and balancing multiple activities at once.  

In our prefrontal cortex, we assess our choices through the lens of our past experiences, as well as what we perceive to be our current needs.

Then, we form predictions about any potential rewards or punishments that may result from each choice. This is called “value-based decision making.” 

In addition to the frontal lobe of the brain, we also use a primitive, instinct-driven part of the brain called the amygdala to make decisions. The amygdala is a lot like my pre-schooler. Very, very willing to ignore potential consequences to chase whatever fun impulse strikes his little fancy.

How Buyers Make Decisions

Interestingly, many decisions aren’t made consciously. The brain uses heuristics—mental shortcuts—to make quick decisions without having to weigh every option.By the time our conscious brain thinks through a decision, our unconscious brain has already made a decision. 

For small businesses, understanding this decision-making process can be leveraged in multiple ways. 

Firstly, knowing that consumers often make decisions based on emotion, businesses can develop marketing strategies that evoke specific emotions to influence purchasing decisions. 

Is it manipulative? You could argue that stoking anger or fear to sway buyers is somehow unethical. Personally, I believe that if the emotion you’re trying to evoke is an authentic one, this isn’t manipulative. It’s taking the information available to you and using it to forge a connection with your audience.

Appeal to Emotions and the Rational

An important caveat to remember here is that people may make an initial decision unconsciously, but will most often apply their rational, conscious reasoning to it as well. For this reason, we’ve found the most successful marketing campaigns begin by hooking the audience emotionally, followed by highlighting the unique benefits of the clients’ offerings, proving demonstrable value, or offering trial periods to reduce risk perception.

Since decision-making often involves weighing potential rewards against risks, small businesses are finding success by simply emphasizing the rewards and minimizing perceived risks associated with their products or services.

Make it Easy for Them

Consumers tend to choose options that are easier to process cognitively, often termed as “cognitive ease.”  This is why branding is so important.

Having a well-defined brand helps minimize confusion, making the purchasing process as simple as possible, which in turn attracts more customers. This could involve writing clear and straightforward language for your marketing materials or designing a user-friendly website.

Stop Churn with Heuristics

Finally, understanding that previous experiences greatly influence our decisions, businesses can focus on providing excellent customer service to create positive past experiences for their customers. A satisfied customer is not only more likely to return but can also become a promoter of the business, influencing others’ decisions in favor of the company.

In the year since I began pursuing my masters in Neuroscience, I’ve learned that understanding the brain’s decision-making process can offer valuable insights for small businesses. By creating marketing strategies that consider how decisions are made and what influences them, businesses can significantly impact consumer behavior, leading to increased customer engagement, loyalty, and ultimately, business growth.