NZ Ag: why rural marketers need emotional intelligence (EQ)

I’ve always been fascinated by why people buy since I was a kid. It started when my Dad took me to Twickenham every cold December to watch the Varsity (Oxford Cambridge match) which he’d do every year with his truck drivers as a thank you to them for all their hard work that year. As I sat in the stands I always wondered why did the Tetley, Whitbread or Coca Cola billboards on the pitch influence people to buy.

Over more recent years I’ve noticed rural marketers not sharing the same fascination by recognising and harnessing the power of emotion in their customer’s decision making and buying behaviour. Some continue to treat their customers as if they were predictable and rational which is the same mistake Economists make. If they could understand the emotional state and drivers of their customers more they would be rewarded with closer and more profitable relationships and higher level of referrals, let alone promotions.

Emotional drivers are a powerful force and comes in many forms such as:

  • Does this purchase make me look good?
  • Does this purchase make me look stupid?
  • Does this purchase communicate I am smart to my peers?
  • Does this purchase help me conform with my group or community?

Every choice a customer makes has underlying emotional drivers. The gold for rrual marketers is in uncovering those drivers and meeting it with their own product or service. The better we can understand the mood state or triggers of targeted groups of customers the more efficient and effective we can be at making sure we send the right message at the right time to get better chance of generating a lead or converting a sale.

If we can tune in with the right antenna we can understand what different customer segments, or personas, are thinking, saying, feeling and doing. In the trade we call it Empathy Mapping. We want to find out what their fears, motivations and pain points are. We also want to find out what their moments of joy or frustration are. The better we understand them the better we can respond to meet their unmet needs.

Beef + Lamb NZ are moving in this direction and are big proponents of design-led thinking as is the brilliant Te Hono movement through Stanford University. This is all very positive because it gets NZ Ag closer to customers through value rather than further away from them with volume commodity plays through gate blocking intermediaries. 

For sceptics still reading who aren't convinced, some of the world’s best neuroscientists have proven through MRI scanning how much emotion dominates decision making. Here too is a great link to the Elephant (emotional) and Rider (rational) analogy which is well worth the 2 minute watch explaining how the emotional Elephant dominates the rational Rider: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X9KP8uiGZTs 

Harnessing the power of emotion isn’t just a customer thing. When it comes to the internal, culture and brand behaviours are inextricably linked because your people are humans too driven by deep and powerful emotions. You can’t promote a brand to an external market until you’ve got your internal house in order. If you make a public promise to commit to service excellence you need to make sure you’ve done the hard yards with Customer Journey Mapping (aka. Customer Experience) and by empowering and coaching your staff. Your team need to live, breathe and act customer-centricity in all their behaviours and processes. As an example, it could mean empowering your team to make front line decisions without having to take days to consult with head office before getting back to the customer who might have switched suppliers in that time which results in a lost sale.

Someone must smarter than me said "the soft stuff is the hardest stuff". The intangible will always beat tangible because all the tangible stuff like plant, equipment or digital e-commerce platforms can be replicated or bought. A distinct attitude, philosophy or positioning is much harder to match and the intangibles are the only things that live and remain special or memorable in a customer’s mind. Nike and Apple are masters at this. Customers won’t be dreaming about your shiny new factory or the German welding machinery that came with it. They will only be thinking about what your brand says about them because it’s all about them. And this is where the power of brand and emotion kicks in.

As a recent Psychology Today article outlined: “For most consumers, the biggest play for emotions is that they push us towards taking action. In response to an emotion, humans are compelled to do something. In a physical confrontation, fear forces us to chose between ‘fight or flight’ to insure our self-preservation. In our daily social confrontations, insecurity may cause us to buy the latest iPhone to support our positive self-identity.”

So as you plan your 2018 rural marketing activities think about how you could dial into and emphathise with the emotional state of your customers. You will be well rewarded.

ps: if you’re interested in learning more about the psychology of consumer behaviour and buying here are a few books I would recommend to read over the holiday break:

Buylogy: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy, Martin Lindstrom

Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness Richard H. Thaler, Cass R. Sunstein

Switch: by Chip & Dan Heath

Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, Dan Ariely

Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, Al Ries and Jack Trou

Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow: Richard Kauffeman