New research confirms that people are more likely to make emotional instead of objective assessments when the outcome of the decision is in the near future.
From which snack to buy to which apartment to rent, we base many of our decisions on either feelings or objective assessment. And the option that appeals more to our feelings is often not the one that “makes more sense.”
“The proximity of a decision’s outcome increases consumer reliance on feelings when making decisions. Feelings are relied upon more when the outcome is closer in time because these feelings appear to be more informative in such situations,” write authors Hannah H. Chang and Michel Tuan Pham, Ph.D.
The decision-making process is often influenced by a sense of urgency — a perception that may vary among individuals. For example, when looking for an apartment to rent, some consumers may decide which apartment to rent only a week before moving in, while others may decide several months in advance.
In one study, college students were asked to imagine that they were about to graduate, had found a well-paying job, and were looking for an apartment to rent after graduation. They were then given a choice between an apartment that appeals more to their feelings (a smaller, prettier apartment with better views) and an option that is objectively better (a bigger, more conveniently located apartment).
College juniors and those who imagined graduating a year later analyzed the decision from an objective standpoint and chose the larger, more convenient apartment.
In contrast, college seniors and those who imagined graduating and moving into an apartment next month were more likely to choose the former option.
Researchers believe marketers can use this knowledge of the human decision-making process to better present their goods. In other words, companies should consider the time between consumer decision-making and consumption.
When consumers will be deciding immediately prior to consumption (choosing an entrée at a restaurant or a mobile phone plan), companies should focus on messages that appeal to consumers’ feelings, say the authors.
On the other hand, when a consumer is deciding on a purchase well in advance (choosing a retirement plan or booking flights), companies should focus less on emotional appeals and instead emphasize messages that appeal to objective assessments.