When Emotion Trumps Rationality (And That's OK)

Car companies could learn a thing or two about passion. Yes, I said it. For most regular people, driving a car is not just about speed, or efficiency or even luxury features. It’s about experiences that make people passionate…and maybe a little bit irrational. 

In most cases, the advertising agencies get the message right, pushing the “passion” of driving with reckless abandon: Picture the somber parent dropping his kid off at soccer then gleaming as he spins out for what we can only imagine is an afternoon of unfettered “Dad” time (presumably going 95 mph across the Bonneville Salt Flats). But passion means so much more in “real life” and the manufacturers and dealerships seem to miss the mark with their focus on simply “up-selling” from the base to the median or luxury model or “best time to buy” offers. 

When I purchased a “previously owned” Land Rover LR3, it was an emotional decision. It marked a turning point in my family. We had a Toyota Sienna Minivan, but as my children grew older, the need for the minivan diminished and my need for something cool increased.



Since I bought it, my Rover and I have made many memories together. That Rover safely transported two friends and my dog Harley across country…well almost…Harley didn’t make it and passed away in the back on the way. That same Rover safely ferried my wife and two kids around on unplowed snow-covered hilly Ozark roads in January while I was away. That Rover rocketed and fishtailed its way down dirt roads with my two girls cheering in the back, “go faster, go faster,” as mud flew all around us. We drove across country fields that served as an interim parking lot after a minor league baseball game with moonlight shining down through the twin moon roofs. We rocked out in that Rover with its premium sound system belching Eminem and Jay Z to my kids’ delight. 

I love my Rover, even though I feel like jamming an ice pick into its sporadically errant “tyre” sensor light and must suffer through myriad other problems that “previously owned” cars (and in some cases, Rovers in particular) are known for. 

I have an emotional connection to my bucket of bolts and, regardless of make and model, I’m sure I’m not alone. 

Every day, people make seemingly irrational purchase decisions based on emotional impulse or attachment. This type of behavior puzzles rational engineers and irritates choice modelers. It confounds econometricians who base models on profit-maximizing behavior. Human decision-making is messy business. People don’t always make rational decisions. Even if they had perfect information to make decisions, they still get short-circuited by emotions. In fact, marketers and good sales people depend on people not making rational decisions by influencing emotions. 

Our job as CXM professionals is not only to measure the emotional aspects of the customer experience but also help create holistic emotional experiences for the brand. So often in our product development and marketing efforts we get caught up in features and specifications. In product development we concentrate on faster, more powerful, bigger and so forth. In retail we focus on in-stock, staffing, end caps, shelf configuration, packaging and other concrete factors. All of these substantive levers are only relevant in that they drive an emotional experience. Those memorable moments—good or bad—that has a disproportionate effect on future decision-making.

Unfortunately, we are woefully deficient in measuring the emotional component of the experience. In fact, people will overlook some problems if they are truly in love with the experience the brand has created. Look what I put up with owning my Rover.

So I will take jabs from my friends about my Rover. I am in love. They are just jealous.

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