In a data-driven world, does data drive our decisions?

In the information age, so much data has been democratized that allows us to make informed decisions. But is data what drives decision making processes?

Driven By Data

In today’s technologically-sophisticated world, we have access to an infinite amount of information anytime and anywhere through an increasing number of devices. We’ve evolved from the printed word all the way to the Star Trek era of shouting out our questions and getting answers any time with a simple voice command:

  • “Alexa! What’s the weather?”
  • “Hey, Siri! Where’s the closest Starbucks?”
  • “Ok, Google! How many ounces are in a cup?”

It seems that these devices are so smart, they can even carry on conversations with each other.

With all of this immediate access to information, the logical conclusion would be that consumers have the data they need to make informed, rational purchasing decisions.

But is that true?

Not necessarily. It assumes that evaluating objective data is what drives our decision-making behavior. Like it or not, studies show that our decisions are frequently driven by what we feel, not what we know.

Let’s look at a famous case study conducted by neuroscientist Antonio Damasio to illustrate the point. Dr. Damasio studied a patient given the name “Elliott” who suffered from acute brain damage in his frontal lobe. Prior to the brain damage, Elliott was a healthy and productive person with a successful marriage and career. After a tumor was removed from his brain, things began to fall apart. Elliott lost his job. His finances ran amuck after making a poor decision to get involved in a moneymaking scheme with shady characters. He divorced his wife, married again only to get divorced again. Dr. Damasio determined that Elliott’s IQ, short- and long-term memory were intact and functioning at a high level.

So what was wrong?

Elliott’s ability to generate emotion was damaged. Dr. Damasio further established a link between this lack of emotion and Elliott’s ability to make decisions. For example, at work Elliott would spend hours trying to make trivial decisions such as how to organize a set of documents. Should they be sorted by data, subject or document size? A decision this simple had become paralyzing.

Other studies suggest that our ability to store facts is linked to a connection established through emotion. This means that the path to storing information into long-term memory runs through the heart, not the head.

Think about that for a moment.

In order for us to store information that we can later recall when making decisions that change our behavior, we must first have an emotional connection to the content.

So what does all of this mean for marketers—particularly in health?

It challenges the assumption that audiences, such as healthcare professionals and patients, will be convinced by the data that a product or service presents. Suddenly that efficacy chart seems a little less powerful. I’m not suggesting that the data is irrelevant—it’s not. But if your brand cannot connect on an emotional level first, then your data will evaporate as soon as your audience is distracted by the next emotional tweet or fake news story that pops up in their social newsfeed.

If we’re in the business of influencing the decisions that people make in order to change behavior, then it’s critical that we develop content and experiences that will connect and resonate with our intended audience.

How do we do that?

It turns out that there’s an art and a science to that which we’ll explore in our next post.


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