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How to quickly turn the ship around with heuristics

Humans are lazy creatures. Not the lounge-on-the-sofa-in-your-pants kind of laziness (at least not always). I'm talking about a laziness that's hardwired at a subconscious level. I'm talking about heuristics. 

Heuristics are simple rules that humans use to make quick decisions. Put simply, rather than figure out the best course of action from scratch every time, we refer to pre-programmed schema to save our brains from overloading. 

To illustrate, one type of heuristic (known as Availability) suggests that when an idea is easy to bring to mind, humans will overestimate how likely it is to occur. Terrorism, for instance, is an easy thing to fear because it's so infamous. The fact is, we're unlikely to be affected by it directly, but because it springs vividly to mind, it has more sway over us. Many of us succumb to this pre-defined, easy-access fear, and that's precisely why it's such a destructive tool. It's the same reason we fear shark attacks, even though you're more likely to be crushed by a falling vending machine.

For the purposes of this article, I'll be talking about the 'Affect' heuristic (AH). Like all heuristics, it's a mental 'shortcut'. Everyone uses AH, without exception. Which means that if you can weave this simple rule into your messaging, it can become very influential indeed. 

'Many psychological scientists now assume that emotions are the dominant driver of most meaningful decisions in life (Lerner et al, 2014).'

With that in mind, AH is a human's emotional decision-maker. It associates everything we see and hear with a gut-feeling - whether that's 'a warm blanket', or 'a dark alley'. So you might spend time thinking of nice adjectives, and one-liners that roll off the tongue... but if it's not grounded in the relevant emotion, it's probably not getting you results.

A customer is more likely to react and engage with an emotional driver (happiness, excitement, lust, love, fear) than a logical one (price, convenience, quality). It's one way to craft a message that's meaningful to people. Now all you've got to do is figure out what emotion(s) your product, service or brand can inspire. 

(I also want to just quickly point out that there is absolutely still value in a logical benefit. However, they usually play a supporting role because their hook isn't specific (or emotive) enough.)

Anyway, an example:

For us, we like things that are simple, and we know that business owners like simplicity too. So we might start with something like this:

Join us for the workshop that makes business simple

Simple isn't an emotion. We want people to experience an epiphany at these sessions; we want people to get excited by their ideas, and inspired and motivated to go out and make them happen. Simple's fine, but it's just a by-product of the emotional trigger. What about

Bring inspirational ideas to life. Join our business workshop. 

I've not tested this at all (I will, so keep a look out), but my money's on the second one. There's a clear emotional benefit, and a direct call to action that implies you'll get that benefit by signing up. If a human reads that copy, and they're craving inspiration, they'll click much more readily than if I spoke about a discount, or... actually, wait - hang on. Let's add in that support role I mentioned. (You know I like a freebie).

Bring inspirational ideas to life. Join our 30 minute business workshop for free.

Now we're cooking with gas; we've got a strong, direct and emotional call to action (high gain = inspiration, action), all supported by two irresistible logical benefits (low cost = time and money). If you see this message and you're in the business world... it'd be too good to turn down. It's got everything you really need: There's the heart-grabbing, emotion-led opener, and then just as the brain's about to say, 'Oh you don't have time,' or 'It'll be too expensive' it's kept happy with the logical safety net. 

You can see what I'm trying to do, even in this hastily-put-together example. But I challenge you all: go out, consider the emotions of your readers and customers-to-be, and reap the benefits. It's easy when you get the hang of it. 

If you'd like to explore this further, chat to me over a coffee: louis@barecollective.co.

Thanks for reading,