Money: the greatest emotional benefit?

Money: the greatest emotional benefit?

At Shelton Group we talk a lot — with our clients and in our many speaking gigs around the country — about the emotional and rational brains, and about emotional and rational benefits.  Our party line is:  “People make decisions from the emotional centers of their brain first and then the rational centers kick in to rationalize why the emotional decision was a good one,” and “You must offer both an emotional and rational benefit in your advertising.  Ads with only an emotional appeal or only a rational appeal simply don’t work.”

On the energy efficiency side of our work, “saving money” is largely seen as a rational benefit, as in, “why wouldn’t someone choose the more efficient product?  They’ll save money!  It’s only logical to make that choice.”  On the green product side of our work we hear mainstream consumers say, “why would I pay more for a greener product, just to feel a little better about myself?  That’s irrational.”

So money gets put in the rational column over and over.  But it’s not a rational benefit.  It’s highly emotional.

Check out what’s happening with the stock market right now.  All the talking heads put fear at the top of the list for why we’re seeing the crazy drops and gains — that would be fear of losing money, fear of not being in control of money, fear of making the wrong decisions about money.  “Fear of loss” is a powerful motivator and creates a hard-to-combat pull in our brains that’s much stronger than the pull of “saving.”

And when that fear is present, it’s hard to move consumers.  For the last seven years in our Energy Pulse survey we’ve asked the question, “What’s the number one reason to buy an energy efficient product or participate in energy conserving behaviors?”  Pre-recession the answer was consistently, “To preserve the quality of life for future generations.” Quite literally, “save money” was third on the list of motivators.  Ever since Fall of 2008, however, “save money” has topped the list and “preserving quality of life” has fallen to a distant third.  That’s not the result of some sudden rational thinking; that’s pure emotion.  And the “save money” answer is a bit misleading — what consumers are really saying is “I’m so concerned about money right now and whether or not I’ll have enough that I can’t even think about the future.”

And just as financial fears/fear of loss causes us to act in wildly irrational ways (stock market), the promise of financial rewards causes us to do the same.  Scientists have, in fact, documented that the areas of the brain that light up when a financial reward is offered are the same areas of the brain that light up when a drug-addict sees his next fix coming.  It’s that powerful.

So when Americans do leverage all their emotions around money to move themselves to make energy efficient home improvements, they do so looking for the rush of good feeling caused by a financial reward (the savings they’ll see on their utility bills). Yet nearly half the Americans who’ve made energy efficient improvements haven’t seen the savings they expected.

And that explains why the energy efficient home improvement market isn’t moving the way everyone in that indsutry thinks it should.  Many professionals charged with selling energy efficient products and moving utility rebates are scratching their heads, saying, “In this economy, why wouldn’t consumers make their homes more energy efficient?  It’s only rational.”

It’s not.  It’s highly, highly emotional.

About the Author

Suzanne Shelton

Where Suzanne sees opportunity, you can bet results will follow. Drawing on her extensive knowledge of both the advertising world and the energy and environment arena, Suzanne provides unparalleled strategic insights to our clients and to audiences around North America. Suzanne is a guest columnist in multiple publications and websites, such as GreenBiz, and she speaks at around 20 conferences a year, including Sustainable Brands, Fortune Brainstorm E and Green Build.

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