*Warning the following could cause Cephalagia (a headache). Read at your own risk.
Whence is this monstrous thing? And why is it? The mind commands the body and it obeys forthwith; the mind commands itself and is resisted. The mind commands the hand to be moved, and such readiness is there that the command is scarce to be distinguished from the obedience. . . The mind commands the mind to command the will, and yet though it be itself, it obeyeth not. Whence this monstrous thing? It commands itself to will and would not give the command unless it willed, yet is not done that which it commandeth. But it willeth not entirely; therefore it commandeth not entirely (St. Augustine, Works, VIII.ix.21).
Why did you get up today?
What did you choose to eat for breakfast? Why?
The choices we make, we consider random, but as the latest research in social science/psychology indicates – they are not. Marketers have understood the importance of these fields of study for some time now.
A field that is being greatly overlooked is theology.
Years of seminary training and study of the Bible has helped me to understand God, people and most of all, myself. Theology is, of course, the study of God. It teaches us that God is sovereign. He governs all things: political decisions (Pr. 21:1), tsunamis (Zech. 10:1, a game of Monopoly (Pr. 16:33), our next meal (Ps. 136:25), Google searches (Pr. 16:9), even your finding and reading this blog post!
But theology also includes the study of people and relationships in relation to their Creator/Designer. Everyone in the field of marketing and advertising knows if we can ever figure out what makes people tick, then we’ll know what makes them click.
Man is a complex being and there are many differences between us as a human race, but one trait unites us…
You may have read books like Influence by Robert Cialdini and Brainfluence by Roger Dooley, but what I bet you have never read are books like Freedom of the Will by Jonathan Edwards, Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther and modern gems like A New Inner Relish by Dane Ortlund. Once you crack their pages you find the old saying is valid…
If it’s true, it ain’t new.
For years theologians and scholars have been discussing what modern business experts are just finding out. Reading them “old dead guys” can help shed light on many things, but mostly our understanding the human heart, the mind of man and most of all – why we act the way we do.
I’ve been able to add much of my training in this area to my career as a copywriter and content strategist. One principle specifically has helped me the most. Since this can be difficult to understand, I’ll state it three ways.
Here it is:
People always make decisions based on their strongest inclination present at the time of choice
Our heart governs our will and our will is reinforced by our reason
(Even more simply stated)
Our chief desires determine our actions.
We as human beings have three basic faculties controlling the decision-making process:
We have a tendency to think that it is the Will which is the Boss in the decision-making process. It tells our emotions what to do and when. But the opposite is true. Instead of the Will being the tail that wags the dog of Desire, it is the other way around. Our desires are what determine our actions. Our reason then works overtime to defend and rationalize what our desires are seeking and our Will is choosing.
Our Will although free, is also bound. Many of the world’s leading business experts have begun to understand what years of theological study have been teaching us for centuries –
We are not as free as we thought we were.
“Research] suggests that what we think of as free will is largely an illusion: much of the time, we are simply operating on automatic pilot, and the way we think and act – and how well we think and act on the spur of the moment – are a lot more susceptible to outside influences than we realize.”
― Malcolm Gladwell, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
Why are we so susceptible to outside influences? Because of what’s inside.
We are always free to do what we want to do, but we are never free to operate outside of those “wants”.
Maybe an example will help:
You get up to go to work. You don’t want to go, but you do it anyway. For a moment you think you are making a decision against your desires, but in reality, you are not. Maybe it’s the desire to have food in the fridge, pay your bills or not get fired and humiliated. Either way, you are deciding based on your “strongest inclination”.
These desires also inform our basis of belief. Once we have rationalized what we want most, our mind then settles on that foundation. Our choices are based on what we believe and what we believe will always be based on what we desire.
“Desire drives belief, which motivates people to seek out information and act in certain ways that help them attain those desires.” (“Business of Belief” – Tom Asacker).
Marketing professionals need to pay attention. This isn’t useless psycho-babble. It is fundamental to understanding any target audience.
Content marketers have to go beyond telling people what to do and showing them where to get it. Our words need to go to the deepest parts of who they are: first to desire, then to reason, then to the will. Our strategies, lead their desires. We don’t create them.
Why do you think a typical sales letter, landing page, blog post (take your pick), are all laid out like this:
Headline & Intro (Strong emotional appeal)
Body (Add appeals to logic)
Call to Action (Time to make a decision)
Now you know.
The more we begin to understand that principle and let it soak in, the more we will begin to understand what I will explain in Part 2 –
How does knowing theology affect everyday business life and more importantly, help us reach our goals?