Trail lights long exposure

There used to be a cute little cafe in my town. They had the best coffee selection for miles. Not to mention the place was very tastefully decorated and had a welcoming atmosphere. The only problem? It was on the other end of town. Since I don’t have a car and I rarely use public transport, I had to walk for 40 minutes to get there.

Later, I found a different place that was much closer, had the same selection of brews, and they had lower prices. But every time I felt like going out for a good cup of coffee, I went to the other place. I brought my dates there. I told my friends about it. Despite it being further away and more expensive, it was my choice. Why? Am I crazy? I mean, I am, but that’s beside the point. The reason has a lot to do with the way we make decisions.

The way we make decisions.

We like to think we’re rational beings. We fancy the idea that every decision we make is the result of a long and complicated mental process. An intellectual mechanism we mastefully operate.

And it totally is, but we’re rarely the ones in the driver’s seat. Decision-making is extremely complex. So much so that we don’t fully understand it, yet. However, what we do understand is that many of our decisions are driven by emotion. The more strongly we feel about something, the stronger the emotional decision. And then we use reason to justify it.

Emotions drive the bulk of our behaviour. And our choices. Emotions can turn iron into gold. They’re the reason why some people choose to smoke (it “feels” good), even though it’s completely irrational. It’s slowly killing them, yet offers no real benefit.

Same reason why we enjoy junk food, despite it being filled with crap and empty calories. Why we drink coffee, even though prolonged use of caffeine leads to diminishing returns (that’s why I stopped drinking coffee altogether, unless absolutely necessary). And why we spend hours on Instagram, despite it feeding our insecurities.

Most of our behaviour is irrational. We’re largely guided by what feels good and we want to avoid what feels bad. Hence why understanding emotions is fundamental in good branding and kickass copywriting.

Moreover, this shines the light on every little aspect of your business. Every little thing you think your customers “won’t notice” or that is “not important” can play a crucial role in the feeling your business induces. 

A great cup of coffee.

Back to the coffee place from above. While my decision to go there defies all conventional logic, it still wasn’t a bad decision. The place made me feel awesome. It was like my home away from home. It had a warmth about it that very few other establishments have. I could sit down, grab a coffee, and read a book in peace, just like I would at home.

Those feelings were worth more to me than the price it cost me to experience them (walking for 40 minutes and paying premium for a cup of coffee).

Now think about yourself. What seemingly irrational decisions have you made? Maybe you’ve paid a premium for a pair of sneakers. Maybe you make a camp in front of the Apple store every time they release a new iPhone. Or maybe, like me, you pay more than you need to for a cup of damn good coffee. Whatever it is, I’m sure you can fully justify your decisions, while others would find them irrational.

And that’s normal. That’s just how our brains work. And that’s what makes amazing businesses possible.

Is your business OK?

Every coffee shop I’d pass along the way was “OK”. The coffee was OK. The customer service was OK. The atmosphere was OK. None of them were likely to be terrible since most of them were in business for years. Yet, instead of sitting at one of them, I would keep marching forward to “my place”. The place where I felt like I belonged. Where the coffee was more expensive, but I didn’t care. It wasn’t just the coffee I was after – it was the overall experience.

When you have customers crossing the city to get to your place, you know you’ve created something special. This is one of the main purposes of branding – to create something spectacular. Something people are excited to talk about.

Unless your customers are willing to pay a premium, you don’t have a brand. Hence, your business is based around convenience. And that’s OK for most people. Nothing wrong with it.

An OK business can still generate a good profit. And it can still pay the bills. But if you love your business and want to create a brand and a legacy, being “OK” just won’t cut it. No one has ever said, “Hey, lemme tell you about this OK restaurant I went to the other day. The service was passable and the food was edible. You should try it.”

Why does this matter?

It matters for many reasons. For one, it allows you to do something unique with your business. Something no one else is doing. And it increases your chances of being successful.

Second, it increases the customer lifetime value. Think about it this way – if you’re running an online store and you’re mostly feeding it visitors through Facebook ads, how much does your customer acquisition cost? Now, imagine what would happen if people started returning to your site again and again. You’d increase the net profit you get from those customers, because you won’t be spending on additional marketing to get them. In essence, having an amazing business increases your bottom line.

Third, you leverage the network of your customers. Even today, word of mouth is one of the best ways to generate business. And since “birds of a feather flock together”, impressing one of your customers gives you potential referrals from their inner circle. Further increasing your sales without additional ad spend.

And fourth, it just feels good. It feels good to run a business that has a purpose beyond making a buck. It feels good to contribute. And to have customers referring their friends and writing your thank you letters to express their gratitude. Because you’ve created something amazing.

Amazing businesses are the ones that build brands. They’re the ones people talk about. They’re the ones people refer to their friends. And they’re the ones that make it in the long run. So ask yourself, is your business the best it can be? Is it amazing? Or is it merely “OK”?


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