Our preferences aren’t as logical as we think. 

Marketers have long obsessed with building brand loyalty, but the foundation of that loyalty may not be as logical as we’d like to believe. A recent Fast Company article reported that the researchers at Johns Hopkins who studied a group of  babies found that when they randomly chose a block from a room full of identical ones, the babies stopped liking all the others.

The article concludes, “This suggests that we like things because we chose them, which is very different than what we think we’re doing, choosing things because we like them.”

This explains a lot. Anyone in sales (by the way — we are all in sales) can point to clients and colleagues who refuse to switch brands, companies, suppliers, marketing channels, or information sources despite any tall stack of logical, fact-checked proof points we can offer. Even arbitrary choices become wrapped in the mantle of, “this is what I’ve always preferred.”

Call it cognitive dissonance (I chose it so it must be a superior choice) or call it laziness (one less thing to worry about), it explains why we sometimes become emotionally defensive when asked to try something new (a product, a service, or an idea). This certainly helps explain the extreme political polarity in the U.S. right now.

So, if people refuse to listen to solid evidence that runs counter to their ingrained preference, is it futile to think we can change their minds? Ask yourself this — how many middle school kids do you see walking around with a blankie, pacifier, or favorite plush animal?

The truth is, a loving parent gently and patiently helped them understand that it was time to set that cherished symbol of security aside. They didn’t condemn the beloved. Nor did they quote statistics showing that a prolonged attachment to stuffed animals indicates a sub-par GPA in college. Instead, they provided a safe place of unconditional love in which the child could consider other options from a new field of choices.

Today, as a response to the pandemic and many other disruptors affecting the business world, we will be called on to help colleagues, clients, and other decision makers move forward. They may be reluctant to let go of things that have served them well in the past. Being confrontational won’t help. Progress comes with baby steps.

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