Move the elephant

Why feelings beat facts in successful marketing communication

If you want results, learn to move the elephant.

Just because we have access to facts doesn’t mean we’ll do anything about them.

We know that some things are bad for our health, yet we continue to do them.

We know that some things are good for our health, but we continue to avoid them.

So why do we expect that presenting perfectly compelling features and facts along with logical reasons to use a product or service will be any different?

The explanation is relatively simple.

Firstly, to switch someone to our brand, we usually need to break an ingrained habit. But it’s more than that. We also have to break up a relationship our potential customer has with another brand.

Notice I used the word ‘relationship’. I didn’t say the customer was ‘using’ something or someone else. A brand is a relationship built with the customer. And until your customer has true feelings about your product or service, facts and figures don’t matter – no matter how good they are.

But the resistance to change also has a psychological component.

Scientists have known about the two system-two speed brain for years. We know that touching a hot surface isn’t a good idea. We don’t have to think too deeply about it. That’s our reptilian, system one brain doing the work. But if you needed to calculate which of two deals was better, the slow, system two would be involved. It’s a little like gut intuition vs brain.

One psychologist from the University of Virginia has developed an analogy that makes understanding our ‘irrational’ behaviour a bit easier.

Jonathan Haidt talks about Moving the Elephant, and it has been adopted by a number of behaviour change experts (and marketers) to help improve outcomes.

He visualises the brain as an elephant with a rider perched on top. The rider is your rational, slow thinking brain, and the elephant is your fast thinking, intuitive brain. If the rider and the elephant disagree on where to go…guess who wins?

“As marketers, we spend most of our time talking to the little rider. But for us to really succeed, we really need to motivate the elephant.”

The elephant controls most of what we do all day.While the customer’s ‘rider’ will do the deep thinking when required, when it comes to most daily decisions, the ‘elephant’ takes over, which usually means the default or habit will persist.

As marketers, we spend most of our time talking to the little rider. But for us to really succeed, we really need to motivate the elephant. And that usually means appealing emotionally. Creating a desire to do things differently. In fact, Professor Gerald Zaltman from Harvard Business School suggests that as much as 95% of our decisions are made emotionally and then justified rationally.

The final piece of the puzzle is that we have to clear the path for the elephant – we have to make it easy to change direction.

Do you have a brand that isn’t getting traction? Maybe you need to focus more on the elephant, not just present rational facts to the rider.

About the Author Doug Robb

Doug is a marketing strategy and creative communications consultant with over three decades of experience on both the client and agency side of the business. He is also a well established copywriter.