Why You Need to Market Irrationally

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As a financial planner, you likely work hard to make sure you give your clients the objectively correct answers based on strategic, logical thinking. You probably remind them that acting on emotion is what gets them into financial trouble; that they need to build smart, rational financial and investment plans to keep them on the right track.

In other words, you spend a lot of time trying to think rationally and reasonably. Doing that within financial planning is one thing. When it comes to marketing, however, the rational line of thought won’t get you very far for the very same reason it’s so critical in helping clients reach investment success: people don’t make rational decisions.

The Problem with Trying to Make a Rational Argument in Content Marketing

What motivates people to act—to buy, to hire, to pick one service over another—is not rational. We think we make rational decisions and we’re very good at justifying our behavior as reasonable even when it’s not.

We don’t choose based on what’s objectively “better.” We’re motivated by a number of other factors. But then, when we look back on our choices, we do mental backflips to justify why our decision was logical.

The truth, though, is that we all make decisions based on things like:

  • Our emotions, intuition or how we feel
  • Our beliefs, values and worldviews
  • Our stories—what we tell ourselves about ourselves—and the stories we create about other people

Good marketers are also good amateur psychologists. They understand that what motivates people to act is not necessarily data and facts, but stories. They know that a number of cognitive biases get in the way of people’s ability to make the objectively “best” decision.

And therefore, good marketers don’t try to appeal to reason—and you should follow their example. When it comes to your marketing content, consider appealing to what actually drives our decisions: our emotions, our beliefs and our stories.

How to Market Irrationally to See More Conversions

Deepak Chopra delivered the opening keynote of a conference I attended in Boston recently. He shared something that speaks to this fact, saying, “The best businesses are also the best stories.”

If you’re not telling your story, you’re probably not achieving the real goal of marketing: to communicate the value only you can offer to a specific group of people. If your marketing content isn’t driving conversions or making an impact on the bottom line of your business, then ask yourself: am reciting facts that are easy to find in primary sources, or am I telling stories? Am I appealing to someone through reason, or am I exploring themes that trigger emotions?

To do this and to start “marketing irrationally,” you have to know what motivates other people. And the answer to that depends on the group of people you’re talking to (or your audience). You need to understand how they tick and think; it’s not enough just to know how old someone is or their level of household income.

While that’s also useful information, it doesn’t tell you anything about what keeps someone up at night. It doesn’t explain what’s going on subconsciously, or tell how this group of people may be extremely motivated by status and respect and that group is motivated by entirely different things, like community or contribution.

Get familiar with the most common cognitive biases, too. If you do, you know humans are more motivated by the risk of loss than the promise of gain, for example, so you can create content that appeals to that bias in our thinking. Talking about preventing loss might be even more compelling than explaining how to gain something, but you might not get that if you approach content creation in a rational way.

Here are some other examples of cognitive biases that, if you understand, can help inform the kind of marketing content you create to take advantage of these glitches our brains throw into the decision-making process:

  • Ingroup bias, which causes us to be fearful of others or perceived outsiders—so your marketing content should demonstrate that you are “in” with the group of people you want to serve. How can you show you understand them and that people like them work with people like you?
  • Status quo bias, which makes us naturally adverse to change. Your marketing content should soothe fears about how much change is necessary to do something like hire you or work with you. (Talking a lot about how much life will change, even in a positive way, by working with you can backfire.)
  • Bandwagon effect, which makes us follow the crowd. That’s why social proof needs to play a role in your marketing.

Resources for Better Understanding How Irrational Thinking Impacts Us All

Not sure where to start with all this? I suggest learning a little more about how humans in general tend to think—and how our features of our brains that used to serve important functions (like keeping us safe and alive) now tend to introduce more glitches into the system than they provide value.

Check out some of these resources that can give you a quick but powerful education not just in marketing, but in how people think, and what kind of content really sticks with them:


Blogs and Videos:

If you dig into these topics to better understand how people think and make decisions, you’ll be able to improve your messaging and better persuade people to respond to your calls to action in your marketing content.

 Kali Roberge is the founder of Creative Advisor Marketing, an inbound marketing firm that helps financial advisers grow their businesses by creating compelling content to attract prospects and convert leads. She started CAM to give financial pros the right tools to build trust and connections with their audiences, and loves helping advisers find authentic ways to communicate in a way that resonates with the right people.


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