Don’t Let Digital Give You a False Sense of Precision

Consumers make irrational purchase decisions; help them choose you.

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A friend once said to me, “When it comes to shoes, ‘need’ is a relative term.” We’ve all experienced a similarly loose definition of need when making purchase decisions.

As Shar VanBoskirk, a Forrester Research VP and principal analyst, pointed out in her keynote at Forrester’s 2015 Forum for Marketing Leaders: Most choices are the triumph of “something” over reason.

“We don’t reason our way through to the best answer, but marketers presume that we do,” she said. “Marketers believe that we’ll choose the right answer…. But we overeat, oversleep, and consistently choose without regard for the consequences.”

The situation, VanBoskirk explained, is that people don’t have the processing power to review all the information the way they should. They take mental shortcuts. A long line outside a restaurant means it must be tasty. “We preserve mental energy by making habits,” she said. “We biologically crave comfort, and tend to be change-averse as a result.”

So, although digital disruption creates opportunity for consumers, it also provides stress, VanBoskirk said, adding that this situation can be a boon to marketers who approach it properly: by reducing customers’ stress in making a purchase decision, not by coercing a transaction. Doing the latter is a bad practice that’s also misleading to marketers. “Digital disruption provides marketers opportunity to prompt decisions without rational consideration by consumers,” she said, adding that, as a result, “digital gives marketers a false sense of precision.”

VanBoskirk advised attendees to invest to be an anchor brand for customers. “There’s no more important position to hold,” she said. An anchor brand is the reference point to which buyers compare all other options, and is the go-to option when buyers can’t decide. “So, even if you love direct response, you have to invest in your brand,” VanBoskirk asserted.

She cited four types of purchase decisions that marketers can try to help potential customers make through their marketing: Routine, leisure, urgent, and important.

Routine decisions are all about price, habit, and convenience. VanBoskirk cited Amazon Dash as an example of a service that helps consumers form a habit around purchasing from the e-tailer. “Make it as easy as possible to choose you,” she said. “Make your product convenient and habit-forming.”

Leisure decisions are considered decisions that people can get lost in while exploring options. VanBoskirk advised marketers for companies in this category to curate options.

Urgent decisions are about credibility, validation, and risk mitigation. Marketers’ role here is to instill confidence. Turbo Tax, VanBoskirk pointed out, prioritizes user content on its site to show the former two, as well as offers its Refund DoubleCheck service, which helps with the latter.

Important decisions require guidance and information. VanBoskirk recommended facilitating important decisions for customers. Allstate’s GoodHome app is an example; users are 350% more likely to ask for a quote than those who don’t use it.

“Help people choose you,” VanBoskirk said. “Market to reduce stress.”

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