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Why decision fatigue matters in marketing

21st April 2017 - Last modified 20th March 2018 - 0 comments

Why decision fatigue matters in marketing

Written by Victoria Coupe.

How many of us get to the end of the week and still have a spring in our step?  Even the most energetic among us are ready for the weekend when it arrives. It’s no surprise really, we all lead busy lives. But do we truly understand the cause of this fatigue? I recently saw a TEDx talk that aimed to shed some light on the issue, (warning – watching this will make you seriously re-think your Facebook account) with considerable implications for marketers.

VC - Why decision fatigue matters in marketing
Why decision fatigue matters in marketing


The theory is that we are suffering from decision fatigue. This may or may not be a term you’ve come across before but at least on the surface it’s quite self-explanatory. Simply put, we have to make too many decisions because we’re consuming so much media and the brain gets tired. Remember ‘decisions’ are everything we do from making a cup of tea to reading a particular piece of content or checking your emails…

As it turns out there is a limit to our cognitive capacity and we’re hitting that limit far earlier in the day due to the sheer volume of media we are consuming. As Scott Ely references in his talk; a recent study showed that the average American spends 11 hours a day consuming some kind of electronic media. Yikes. It’s no wonder we’re tired.

Now I realise this might sound a bit negative, but actually it is hugely relevant to marketing. In fact this concept won’t be entirely unfamiliar to marketers, especially in B2C. Those chocolate bars next to the till in supermarkets aren’t there by accident. They are strategically positioned to catch you at the end of your shop, so that by the time you see them you’ve likely got decision fatigue and with your willpower sufficiently diminished, you’ll buy them.

While this might be a slightly darker application of decision fatigue theory, it’s a good example of how understanding the psychology of your target audience is crucial to successful marketing. Like it or not, your target audience probably has decision fatigue and factoring it in to your marketing communications strategy is a wise move.

One thing to consider is the later in the day that you reach out to your audience, the more mentally fatigued they are likely to be. When we’re mentally fatigued we can make bad decisions, or put them off entirely, and are unlikely to take in new data effectively. This means the chances of having your message heard and acted upon are significantly reduced.

It’s about having empathy with your audience. Remember – they are human, just like us! It’s easy to think of your audience as rational purchasing machines but even in B2B there are ‘soft’ factors that can influence a buying decision and need to be considered. To drop a term I haven’t heard much in a while, we need to consider “human to human marketing”. After all, like us, our audience want an easy life and for decisions to be easier, simpler and fewer.

So my advice is to try to send communications that are as genuinely helpful or interesting as possible. Try sending them earlier in the day or after lunch (we are refreshed after eating) and you might get a better response. Don’t make your audience jump through multiple hoops or clicks to get to what they need and don’t make anything unnecessarily complicated. This applies to every bit of marketing you do – website, emails, articles press releases, social, AdWords….

Decision fatigue is real, so keep it simple and empathise with your audience – they’ll thank you for it.

For help making the right decisions with your marketing communications, please get in touch.

Written by Victoria Coupe – Senior Account Manager

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