04/24/2013 07:47 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Influence: Why We Should Have All Studied Psychology and Anthropology

What really makes people buy? What underpins human decision making? Do we actually have the agency and power to make logic-based choices, or must we surrender to our inherent gut feelings? This has dominated the conversation in the marketing world for decades, and research has proven time and time again that it is our hearts, not our heads, that drive people to buy. In fact, the part of our brain that controls our feelings and decision-making has no capacity for language. It is a bit unnerving to realize that we can essentially be tapped into and programed by marketers to invest in their products, but given that we are all trying to connect with others to "sell" offers of our own, it would likely be to our benefit to understand the fascinating world of influence as well.

Walk through the "Marketing" section in any bookstore and you will see a common theme. Buyology, Fascinate, Lead With a Story, Unconscious Branding - most people are subscribing to an approach heavily invested in connecting to customers through compelling and emotional storytelling. They are relying on that appeal to the heart to do the job for them. But I think they are missing a critical element.

We are social creatures, and this means that most people's decisions don't exist in a vacuum. They impact others, and so a buyer must not only be personally convinced to buy something, but furthermore that buyer will likely need to justify the purchase to others. Even if the emotion is what drives a decision in the first place, people still yearn to articulate their rationale for making that decision. Remember, though, that decision-making and the ability to explain those decisions exist in different parts of the brain, so you must build your offer to appeal to both head and heart. What this means is that to truly elevate your offer you need to both offer a compelling and emotional "why" and you need to provide your buyer the language to articulate and justify that why. But you must tailor this, studying their culture and the prevailing "code" that they follow to best align your offer.

Emotional allure is important, but to really be a dual threat and maximize your influence, you need to master both your offer's story (the emotional) and stitching (the rational). While the concept comes from a personal experience of mine buying a suit, I think a great way to explore it is through looking at another case study from my recent research.


Utilizing data driven digital marketing to help brands best communicate with their customers, ExactTarget has certainly mastered stories and stitching. They understand the intricacies in buying behavior and engagement and know how to appeal to both the head and the heart of a customer.

Historically a player in the email marketing field, ExactTarget witnessed the explosion of change that came through the emergence of other social media (Facebook and Twitter) and the power of mobile marketing. While most marketers tried to use the new platforms in the same way as they did traditionally, sending email blasts on both Facebook and Twitter geared around the emotional connection, ExactTarget recognized that the prevailing "codes" and stitching differed among each - that people on each of the varying platforms like to interact with brands differently and thus needed to be communicated with in a tailored fashion. But how? Nobody had yet to explore it, so ExactTarget opted to take leadership and fill the gap by launching their own research initiative to actually understand the customer-platform dynamics. They were ultimately able to build new products that took advantage of their new insight, modify their old strategies, and embed the correct language into their content to make it as interesting and insightful as possible.

My personal favorite report of theirs is titled "The Social Breakup" and it explores why customers "unlike" and sever relationships with brands on platforms like Facebook. They released it initially on Valentine's Day - talk about pairing emotional and rational!

What's Next For You?

ExactTarget did their homework. They conducted research to understand not only the emotional motivators that drove customers in making decisions, but they took it a step further to understand the cultural codes and languages important to the prospective buyer. Deepen your understanding of what drives human behavior and align how you communicate to how your customer wants, and you too can become a master influencer and move your idea one step closer to reality. Watch the video below to start that journey, then take some time really asking yourself: What is the story (emotional drivers) that you believe underpins the "stitching" (rational explanation) for why a buyer would engage you and your offer?

Now make a list of all the things you could do to offer as stitching for that story:
• Could you change the design and structure of the offer itself?
• Could you change the language?
• Could you partner with people who bring credibility to you?

Let your mind run free and don't stop until you have at least a page full of ideas which will bring your story to life.

Influence - Stories and Stitching from Peter Sheahan on Vimeo.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and Peter Sheahan on the topic of Making It Happen in Small Business, focused on turning those with the ideas into those with the influence. To see all of the posts in the series, click here.