Intuition – The Emotion We Often Forget

In my on-going research on the role of emotion in economic development, I keep finding blog posts that referenced a studied entitled “Proving The Value of Emotion in B2B Marketing Communications” completed by Upshot an integrated marketing agency located in Chicago.  Here is an excerpt from the study summary that establishes the research hypothesis –

“Why are B2B marketing communications so dull?

The common answer is that business people (apparently unlike ‘normal’ people) are totally rational and can’t be influenced by anything as squishy as ‘emotion’ in sales or marketing pitches.  I just don’t buy that.  People don’t change how they react to marketing when they’re at work, and I’m not alone in this thinking.  Look at thought leaders like Seth Godin, who brilliantly focuses on the importance of storytelling over rational features and benefits in his book, All Marketers are Liars; and Simon Sinet, whose book The Golden Circle, shows that if you want to affect behavior, you’ll do far more by engaging people’s feelings, than making a rational argument.”

The research summary is worth reading.  Upshot found there was a significantly more positive response from a group of B2B executives who viewed an inspiring message than a depressing one about a new magazine; and that purchase intent was higher among those who viewed the inspiring message.  Upshot concluded three things –

  1. The widely held belief that B2B decision making is rational and pragmatic is wrong.
  2. Effective B2B marketing should affect the target’s emotions while delivering its selling message.
  3. The excuse, “Ah, but my business is different.” Isn’t enough to justify lazy and uninspiring creativity in B2B marketing.

I think the test is reasonably well designed and the findings interesting.  Certainly they are supportive of the notion that people are people and will make even important decisions based on emotional factors in addition to rational ones.

On a more academic note, I read a paper entitled “The Role of Emotion in Economic Behavior” authored by Scott Rick and George Loewenstein that introduced me to the idea of decision-making by consequence.  The authors make a case for two types of emotions playing a role.  The first is labeled “immediate” emotions and are experienced at the moment of choice.  The second is labeled “expected” emotions and represent those emotions that are anticipated to occur as a result of the outcomes of the decision.

As economic development professionals, it is important to take both types of emotion into account.  Every interaction with you involves “immediate” emotions and you want to ensure they are as positive as possible.  But, the final location decision is influenced by a number of potential “anticipated” emotions.  What is the Board going to say? What will the reaction of my employees to my location choice?  How will shareholders react?  Will this enhance or jeopardize my career?  How much damage control will I need to do?  What will the media reaction be?  And so on.  Your job is to help the decision-maker by understanding the emotions she/he may be dealing with and providing some support to ensure a positive outcome.  This is certainly no easy challenge.

I also read Ben van der Knapp’s 2008 Masters thesis on “The Role of Intuition on CEO Strategic Decision Making Concerning Internationalization”.  Ben was a student at the RSM University in Rotterdam at the time.  He added the concept of intuition as a component of decision-making. Ben defined intuition as “Thoughts and/or actions formed by a non-rational process of making holistic associations based upon subconscious experiential knowledge”.  He could have called it “gut feel”, but remember Ben was looking to get a good grade on his thesis.

If you read Ben’s thesis paper, pay close attention to figure 6 where he describes variables that influence CEO decision-making.  His model characterizes three buckets of information used by CEOs – rationality, intuition and emotions.  After Ben’s thorough review of the literature, he concludes that “On the manner of deciding they [CEOs] are very clear, it is not solely rational or emotional or intuitively, it is a mix of all three.”  My take away is that if you focus only on the rational side of the site selection decision, you address only 1 of the 3 sources of information a CEO will use to make her/his location choice.  I think it would be more effective to try and leverage all three to your community’s advantage.

To better understand intuition, I read Marta Sinclair and Neal Ashkanasy’s paper – “Intuitive Decision-Making Amongst Leaders: More Than Just Shooting From The Hip”.  They postulate that intuition relies on emotional cues.  They suggest decision-makers tend to leverage intuition when problems are more complex.  To me, that certainly sounded like a site location decision.  In complex decision-making emotions, mood, feelings, analysis and intuition are all combined to render a final choice.


Well I learned a lot about the role of emotion in complex decisions and feel prepared to write the white paper.  Hopefully I have been able to simplify what I learned so you can more easily use the knowledge.  The white paper will share some data on importance of different attributes to the site selection decision process.  I will reprise my literature review learning as context, but the attribute importance data will be new.

Love to hear your reaction to this series of posts on emotion in the capital investment decision.  Your feedback will help me with the direction of the paper.  Please leave a comment and share your thoughts.

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