While many people believe the value in Marketing is purchase optimisation and price, many times it is regret avoidance that leads customers to make purchasing decisions. In B2B Marketing, the idea of regret is especially powerful but more generally there are so many lessons to be learnt about this universal trait that drives decision-making in our lives.
The 4 types of regret
After surveying 20,000 participants from around the world, Dan Pink (writer of five NY Times bestsellers) was able to categorise regrets into four main categories*. He found a clear universality between different cultures and different ages, highlighting the importance of regret in everyday life.
Foundation regrets are times when people find themselves in a situation where they haven’t done the work to be able to capitalise on an opportunity. This might be a job interview where the person hasn’t done their research or an exam where they haven’t revised adequately.
They are small decisions which accumulate and have a negative outcome. They can best be described as: ‘if only I’d done the work’
Boldness regrets are those moments in life where we are presented with a golden opportunity but something stops us from taking the chance. This is one of the most common forms of regret and the most difficult to appreciate in Marketing. As humans we crave safety and often fight against our desire to take a chance when it comes to risks – this can be in products, travel and tourism or everyday things like new experiences.
A boldness regret happens at a juncture – do we play it safe or take the chance. They can best be described as: ‘if only I’d taken the chance’
As social creatures, we are burdened by choices at times that threaten to make us outcasts. If we betray our social identities, which includes our curated online identities, then this can often lead to regret. Examples may be not speaking up when something happens that we know is wrong, or taking an action that we know may cause harm.
Moral regrets happen when we betray our values. They can best be described as: ‘If only I’d done the right thing’
Connection regrets are about relationships. They are very common in these times where, more than ever, people feel disconnected from their friends, family and loved ones. When they miss big life moments or hear sad news such as their passing, it is common to have felt that they should have done more to connect.
These regrets are found where people drift apart. They are best described as: ‘If only I’d reached out’
*Some regrets spanned multiple categories.
Understanding the power of regret in Marketing
These regrets represent core values that people need in their lives. Foundation regrets represent stability, boldness regrets are about growth, moral regrets are about goodness and connection regrets speak to the need for love in our lives. In recognising these drivers in psychology, you can find the key to marketing any product successfully.
So how to Market using knowledge of regret? Well, many smaller companies struggle with a USP, especially in a saturated market. Using this knowledge, a business can focus its energy on the psychological concept of reducing variance, minimisation of regret and thereby use their brand to leverage a sale, rather than having to compete on price.
The phrase ‘nobody ever got fired for buying Cisco’ is common example of this in the IT world – while Cisco arguably isn’t the best or most cost-effective option, it is a widely recognised brand and therefore won’t get you fired if it breaks or doesn’t work. In other words, it is a safe choice.
This is a form of business decision-making defined by regret avoidance. If you choose something that is potentially far better but nobody had heard of, and it went disastrously wrong, you would be responsible for taking the risk. The gains would be small and the risk would be far greater.
Amazon are perhaps the masters at this, they put the concept of regret avoidance at the heart of everything they do. From guaranteeing a next-day delivery, rewarding loyalty, providing opportunities to take risks with time-sensitive discounts, right through to removal of uncertainty to let you know when your package will arrive and when it has been delivered safely.
The best thing about using this approach in Marketing is that by focusing on these elements your brand will actively enhance and enrich the customer experience. While it is sometimes too easy to focus on price and competition, there are times where the best paths are defined by a psychological and user experience approach rather than a purely technological or cost-focused one!
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