Emotional vs. Rational Buying Behavior

Thursday, July 15th, 2021, 11:13 AM


It seems perfectly logical to accept that emotional buying describes our purchase decisions that are heavily based on beliefs and feelings or even attitudes. On the other hand if we apply exclusively logic and facts that is a prime example of rational buying.

Key triggers for emotional buying behavior are often intrinsically connected with fear or love while rational behavior is predominantly based upon economy and a plethora of ‘accounting’ considerations.

Do we really dream about buying goods and services, or perhaps we become essentially tied up with stories and a touch of magic? Scientists offered some unexpected explanations pertaining to our preferences to one product over another.

Professor Gerald Zaltman from Harvard claimed that 95% of our purchasing decisions are subconscious. However, we cannot deny that in addition to emotional motives, our buying behavior is also impacted by rational motives as well.

At the end of the day it boils down to a few essential circumstances: the product, the person and a wide range of external influences. Whether we are ready to accept or not, we are simply obedient slaves to sensory stimuli.

A woman goes shopping

Rational Behavior & Rational Buying Motives

Rational behavior defines a decision-making process that is based on making choices that result in an optimal level of benefit or utility. It is interesting to note that rational behavior does not necessarily involve relevant monetary or material benefits, as the whole process of rational thinking and acting may also be rewarded with non-monetary or emotional satisfaction.

Rational choice theory is an established economic theory that carefully considers all elements of an individual’s rational behavior.

The motive to act and buy rationally is a response to a genuine need or a real problem. Various practical concerns may be a basis for rational purchasing decisions. It may be a desire for safety and security or a result of careful financial considerations, thoroughly analyzing the value per dollar spent.

If a woman bought a new dress because her old one fell apart, it would, of course, become a rational decision. If she, on the other hand, wanted to impress her friends with the latest fashion, it is obviously overwhelmingly an emotional decision. However, with e-wallets and vouchers, for instance, consumers may conveniently avoid ‘emotional rush’, as it is impossible to spend more money than what’s available, as opposed to credit cards.

Emotional Connection

Brands strive to effectively create strong emotional connections with the ultimate desire to influence consumers’ purchasing decisions by hitting our soft emotional spots. How about inspecting other customers’ testimonials exemplifying how the product in question or perhaps service, solved the particular pain point?

One of the final straws by sales and marketing professionals in their attempts to win consumers’ hearts is to simply offer them a money-back guarantee. This is a dangerous point as it may create a false sense of security. Instead, one has to apply logical instruments and thoroughly consider both emotional connection and rational implications when making purchase decisions.

One way of doing it is to first be aware of a certain ‘emotionally-fueled’ desire and then carefully scrutinize the emotional connections and let the logical justification take over. Marketers should communicate a feeling and shift emphasis from the boring facts and ultimately appeal to the human being and not the buyer.

Brand Loyalty, Consumer Preferences and Other Stories

Marketing savvy professionals are always preoccupied with the issue of brand loyalty. They are interested in maximizing effective customer engagement and ultimately would like to know why clients buy one product instead of another?

Scientists, like Professor Zaltman, found the answer to all aspects of emotional buying behavior inside the subconscious mind. He shared a lot of brilliant ideas, essential for branding and marketing professionals in his book ‘How Customers Think: Essential Insights into the Mind of the Market.’

Ultimately it turns out that consumers are not as smart as it may look like. Instead of thoroughly comparing many similar items, before making a final purchasing decision, including exact comparison of essential features of the products, price points and other considerations, they are practically exclusively driven by emotions!

Brands are powerful

Sell the Sizzle, Not the Steak

Emotion is what really drives the purchasing behaviors, and not only that, they drive the decision making process in all instances. It is a very important conclusion for marketing and sales professionals as they deal with consumers that are not logical in their behavior and instead are heavily led by feelings.

The challenge is now to think about the strong engagement with consumers through emotion-based campaigns and marketing efforts. The entire marketing and branding concept of zillions of successful enterprises was closely connected with targeting emotions interrelated with relationships, love and even certain subtle (or less subtle) sexual desires.

Ultimately a good marketer will, of course, first and foremost concentrate on the product at hand and its characteristics and then brilliantly emphasize the emotional response we hope a client shall achieve when using the product in question. In simpler terms, we should craft our efforts towards selling the lifestyle and the feeling.  

Perhaps an old proverb ‘Sell the Sizzle, Not the Steak’ may picture a proper image of what should be done. Thus, instead of selling features of the product, we should exclusively concentrate in selling the benefits!

Sell the sizzle, not the steak

Decision-Making Process & Consumer Behavior

Consumer behavior emerged as a separate sub-discipline of marketing and also an interdisciplinary social science seamlessly blending elements from sociology, psychology, social anthropology, anthropology, ethnography, marketing and economics, including behavioral economics.

It specifically deals with essential elements of the buying decision process by the consumers pertaining to market transactions throughout the purchase of services or goods. That process is a psychological construct or a special form of a brief and powerful cost-benefit analysis in the environment bursting with various options. Ultimately, that process is a commitment leading to action.

Rational choice theory deconstructs economic and social behavior. It claims that an individual will perform a cost-benefit analysis in order to ascertain whether a particular option is right for them. Furthermore, it concludes a consumer’s self-driven rational actions ultimately benefit the economy. Rational choice theory analyzes three key concepts: rational actors, self interest and the ‘invisible hand’.

Consumer’s Buying & Social Media

In the past we often relied on previous purchasing decisions our family members or friends made. The times have changed, our habits too and as we heavily rely on e-commerce we naturally accepted our social networks as an unquestionable authority when making decisions to buy. We curiously check various reviews or experiences shared by social media networks.

Instagram is particularly smart when it comes to emotional buying behavior. Serious brands engage influencers to incite and trigger the followers and enhance marketing, branding and, of course, sales.

YouTube somehow combines both rational and emotional perspectives. In the same manner as on Instagram, influencers produce attractive videos, yet a lot of comparisons were made and published on the network which may tremendously enhance a possibility to check all available options and reach a rational purchasing decision.

In addition to this, blogs also serve as knowledge-transfer entities often supporting analytic and rational thinking when making decisions to buy. One of the advantages of blogs is the ability to get engaged in in-depth analysis of a certain product, including various comparisons, as opposed to a rudimentary display of that product on Instagram.

Online shopping using a credit card and laptop


Let’s single out the essential motivators for consumers when they make purchase decisions. Love, fear and gut instinct are essential as humans always think with their hearts first. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that all the above is heavily fuelled with omnipresent social media and ever growing advertising channels. We are all mercilessly exposed to social media and advertising wherever we go.

Research highlights that about 70% of consumers first check reviews and peer comments before making a purchase decision, and these reviews are 12 times more trusted than the company’s own brand promises or product marketing. (Source: Buffer/eConsultancy)

It turns out that most probably after making a rational decision one feels satisfied afterwards, however if logic was excluded from the buying process, one may feel a void in the  mind after the dust settled.

A few questions may then pop up. Did I make the right choice? Will I regret this in a few months? The most efficient antidote to the above questions is to base your decision on strict logical and rational justification. Any scary emotions or impulses at the time of making purchasing decisions should be efficiently eradicated by rational buying behavior.

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