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How to Talk to Our Irrational Human Brains?

If there is a subject that I love to learn and read about it has to be neuroscience applied to marketing, or how our brains work towards making purchase decisions. By thousands of years of evolution, we would think we are amazing rational creatures, that base most of their decisions on logic, analysis, and investigation, right? But the reality couldn’t be farther away from that.

One of my favorite books of all time is Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely. This book talks precisely about how the human brain is not the perfect machine we think it is, but something that makes unconscious decisions for us all the time. In his book, Dan Ariely describes us, humans, to be “predictably irrational – that our irrationality happens the same way, again and again, and that understanding this provides a starting point for improving our decision making and change the way we live for the better”.

One of the most important things I took from Dan Ariely’s book is about Relativity and how this is a fundamental thing our brains do, they don’t know what they want unless they see it in context to something else. Also through personal research and experience, I have learned how relativity and the Rule of Three work together to help consumers make purchasing decisions.

Have you ever wondered why there are 3 sizes of fries at McDonald’s, 3 sizes of popcorn at the movies, in many subscription services there are regularly three options to choose from, etc.? The explanation behind this is for two reasons: the first one is relativity and the second is the rule of three. When speaking about relativity Ariely talks in his book about “humans rarely choose things in absolute terms. We don´t have an internal value meter that tells us how much things are worth. Rather, we focus on the relative advantage of one thing over another, and estimate value accordingly.” What this is telling us is that we need to have something to compare against, to be able to make a decision. But why three? As defined by Stacy Kjelland in the article Marketing’s new take on the rule of three –  “The rule of three is based on the principle that in speech and text, the reader or audience is more likely to absorb information in groups of threes.”, because our brains enjoy finding patterns, and the smallest number to create a pattern is three.

A great example to illustrate this is the one Ariely mentions in his book. Imagine you are planning a trip to Europe and want a package that will include airfare, sightseeing and hotel and you are presented with two options, prized the same, one for Paris and one for Rome, both of them include free breakfast. It is a hard decision to make because both cities are very interesting and have their uniqueness. But what happens when a third option is thrown into the mix: Option 1 Paris with free breakfast, Option 2 – Rome with free breakfast, and Option 3 – Rome without the free breakfast. Now you have something to compare it to. Only two options were too few for your brain to make a decision, and now Rome with free breakfast seems superior to Paris because now you are comparing two options in Rome rather than two completely different options.

So, when presenting your product or brand to consumers try to think about these principles, and you will be talking to your consumer’s subconscious. Make your product compared to others and highlight its uniqueness, and try to give your customers easy ways to build patterns in their heads towards you like your top three points of difference or your top three reasons to believe.


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