10/03/2012 06:28 pm ET Updated Dec 03, 2012

Desperately Seeking Stats: No Such Thing as Information Overload for Today's Consumers

When it comes to making good decisions, consumers think more information is better. Draftfcb's Institute of Decision Making, the research-driven unit within our global capabilities group that unearths insights on consumer behavior and how humans make decisions for our network and clients, has discovered that knowing the information is available allows consumers to approach decision-making with greater confidence. By combining our own proprietary research with a broad range of emerging work from academia, we have reached a simple, but eye-opening conclusion for marketers: it's not brands that make people feel good, but their decision to choose them that makes them feel good.

Our third New Realities study, done in conjunction with our parent company IPG, revealed some game-changing stats. The global study that involved 3,000 consumers across five of the world's most important economies looks at how people feel about the information that shapes their decisions -- from the influence of society, the advice of friends, family and experts, to advertising, retail presence and social media. We brought our understanding of cognitive mechanisms and expert views on the data from acclaimed authors and professors of neuroeconomics and marketing at leading institutions, including Stanford, to shed light on the behavioral story behind the data.

The data revealed that more than 80 percent of respondents across all of the markets pay attention to messages for brands that they have already purchased. And, between 20 to 50 percent (depending on the market) seek information on brands that they have already selected.

As marketers, we typically attribute this consumer behavior to conscious affirmation of the purchase decision. But neuroeconomics and behavioral psychologists say it could be the result of some powerful instinctual and neural mechanisms. Studies from the Brown Institute for Brain Science show that confirming a correct decision activates the dopamine reward system (the same "feel good" chemical activated by addictive drugs.) Seeking and gaining confirmation that we made the right decision operates at an emotional and physical level, making us feel inordinately good. Not surprisingly, we try to get as much of that feeling as we can by seeking out affirmation of our decisions.

But behavioral psychology tells us that we don't just seek information to reaffirm our choices: we distort and filter the information to do so. After we make a decision, a phenomenon called choice-supportive bias takes place, leading us to discount all but the most overwhelming suggestions that we have made the wrong choice, and inflate evidence and memories that support our choice. Not only do we seek validation, we want to preserve the feeling that we have made the right decision (because the sense that we have made the wrong one is an inordinately big downer).

Making the "right" decision feels good. So, when we feel we have done so, we want to amplify and extend that feeling. All of this is important because it suggests that marketing isn't just about influencing decisions, or just about making consumers feel good about your brand. Perhaps the most powerful thing marketing can do is to make consumers feel good about their decision to choose your brand.

Feeling good about decisions to choose your brand isn't just a powerful form of brand equity. Professor Baba Shiv at the Stanford Graduate School of Business says consumers who feel confident in their choices are more likely to get greater utility from that they have chosen. Shoppers may hit the ball with more confidence if their choice of a tennis racquet or golf club has been affirmed as a good one. They will enjoy the wine more if they feel good about their decision to select it. But the real payoff may be in what this does to people as influencers.

Shiv believes that those who are truly confident about their choices are more contagious as recommenders and advocates. People who are seen -- or see themselves -- as recommenders accrue self-efficacy and self-esteem, traits they are happy to reveal as their reasons for brand advocacy.

We have long known that a "decision-centric" approach to marketing is a practical approach that is close to where the money is. But we have not before seen it as a place to capture the nuances of emotion and to build longer-term engagement with consumers. What we now believe from this research and our continuing work with academics who study different aspects of decision-making is that creating positive emotions around the process of choice will make marketing more rewarding for marketers, and for consumers. That, as we say at Draftfcb, Matters.