Psychologists through research have developed the theory that human decision making is conducted in one of the following eight ways.

You might use all of them at different times to make choices in your life, or you might favour one or two of them, but chances are you will find the way you think, in this list.

  1. Brand Recognition – When we are poorly informed or not interested or able to research further, we rely on name/brand recognition to choose an alternative.
  2. Process of Elimination – First we select a quality that is important to us and then we compare the options against that measure and remove those that don’t make it until we only have one left.
  3. Take the Best Option – We look at all of the options and compare all qualities at once to pick the best option on balance or we do the same to pick the worst and remove it until there is only one left.
  4. Set the Bar – Setting a minimum level of quality (our bar), we compare options against it and remove those that fall short until there is only one left.
  5. Like-for-Like Comparison – We compare two options at a time, like for like and choose the winner of the two. Then repeat this with other options until our choice is made.
  6. Weighted Comparison – Giving each quality of an option a weight based on its importance, we can then score each quality for each option and calculate the weighted winner.
  7. Take the Stand-Out Option – We look for an option that is ‘at least as good’ as all the others and choose this one or we find an alternative that is ‘at least as bad’ as all the others and we remove that one until we have our choice.
  8. Intuition/Gut feel – We use our gut sense, the super-fast memory-scanning process that is built into all of us. It matches elements surrounding the current choice with past memories and experiences to remove bad options and pick a winner.

Understanding the decision-method consumers’ use allows marketing and product teams to build processes around these decision pathways for their products or services.

Instead of the status-quo where these are designed around the decision pathways of their product managers or marketing managers. Customer experiences are also being designed to leverage off this knowledge.  

In order to get real value from this knowledge, businesses need to research their customers.

Understanding their buying styles and buying habits through the development of detailed customer personas is the key. You can use desktop or web-based business intelligence (BI) tools to analyse customer information and combine this with your qualitative and quantitative research to get real buyer insights. Using your business sales or marketing data to create market segments may be useful in a lead attraction program, but it is not the same as developing customer personas.

Further understanding of how we make decisions can lead to marketing tactics that include:

  • Aligning your product’s emotional value with the customer’s emotional needs
  • Framing the marketing or product message in a way that influences customer decisions
  • Focussing your marketing efforts on identified decision drivers of key customer groups
  • Targeting campaigns by persona groups that are far more accurate and successful
  • Developing and delivering a product/service mix that meets customer’s desires

On a lighter note, there should probably be a 9th category called ‘Don’t decide at all’, or even ‘Just delay and it will go away’.

Many of us will have experienced management that have what seems like a complete inability to decide anything! ‘Analysis Paralysis’ it is sometimes called and it can stop a project, a team and a business in its tracks. Welcome to Procrastination Station – next train will be along soon, leave it with me and I’ll get back to you! If someone you know suffers from this, they need help, don’t run away.

You can help the non-deciders in a few ways:

  • Use subtle but real deadlines – if you need an answer in order to start/continue/finish something, let them know that they have some time to think about it but you need an answer before _______!
  • Reverse deadline them – once again if you need the answer let them know they have until a fixed time/date to get back to you and if you haven’t heard from them by then, you will assume all it is a No/Yes/Whatever.
  • Help them make the decision – sometimes they want to make a choice, but just can’t. Show them how by offering the 8 decision methods above. Importantly, you must first ensure that all the relevant information needed to make the decision is available and there is no more to know.
  • Remove the inferior alternatives for them – using the elimination by attribute decision process you can start assisting them by comparing attributes with them. Ultimately, this method requires that they trust you and in doing this, it is important to allow them to choose which attribute is paramount and which option is inferior. You cannot encourage or persuade or your efforts will be in vain.

I hope there is some value for you in this and remember ‘Any Decision is better than No Decision’ and ‘A Wrong Decision can be changed but Indecision you’re stuck with!’