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Experts in Overthinking

By Taylor Gray, Ph.D. on June, 21 2021

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Taylor Gray, Ph.D.

The world is a better place when companies are good corporate citizens. I remain focused on developing meaningful and actionable insights from empirical data in pursuit of a better world.

Have you ever been told that you may be overthinking things a bit too much? You know, when you set out to purchase something—like new shoes, household accessories, or some sort of tech gadget—and one, two, then three weeks pass and you still haven’t been able to settle on the exact item you want. When you want to be intentional in the impacts of your shopping but you just can’t get a satisfactory grasp on all the different impacts of all the different options available to you.

This is not only an unproductive use of your time, but it is also exceedingly frustrating…and it happens nearly every time you are shopping for something. To anybody watching—to your family and friends—it may seem like you are overthinking it all or that you are simply being indecisive. But believe us when we say that you are not overthinking things and you are not being indecisive. You want to be intentional in the impacts of your shopping and you know what you want, but marketing strategies are actively and explicitly working against you—it isn’t you, it's marketing.

Let Motive help--we are experts in overthinking.

 

Everything is Green!

It seems nearly every brand today is proud to advertise how responsible they are, how inclusive they are, and how committed to being better they are (without ever defining ‘better’). To take marketing campaigns at face-value, it would seem brands no longer sell shoes or computers but rather social justice and sustainability. If it’s to be believed then we must accept that we have entered a golden era of corporate social responsibility. So why is it so difficult and so time-consuming to get a good grasp on the actual impacts of brands on the issues we care about?

Some brands do quite meaningfully engage in efforts to reduce their impacts on people and the planet, and these brands are typically quite transparent in how they are working to do so. But far too many brands approach sustainability as a marketing initiative rather than as an opportunity for substantive change. They are happy to talk about all the great things they are doing (or intending to do) even if their narratives do not match their actions. This is greenwashing, and it is prevalent.

And here is the real kicker about greenwashing: the goal is not to trick you, rather it is to confuse you. Greenwashing is not intended to convince you that a brand is sustainable, responsible, or ethical, rather it is intended to sufficiently muddy the waters so that you can’t easily tell which brand is actually sustainable, responsible, or ethical.

You want to be intentional in the impacts of your decisions, but plenty of brands out there don’t want you to be--and they are quite adept at turning the art and science of behavioral economics and psychology against you.

 

Marketing is About Psychology...Not Products

Any brand that engages in greenwashing instead of actually delivering on the issues that we all care about knows that they can’t win the race of being ‘most sustainable’; they know they can’t compete on actual measures of impacts. But they also know they do not need to. If they can confuse our choices enough to make it difficult to clearly identify the better brands then we are most likely going to fall back on heuristics to help us make decisions as to which brand we should buy.

Heuristics are the mental shortcuts we all make when it is too difficult, or impossible, to make an optimal decision. These are the rules-of-thumb and habits we employ to help us make a decision more quickly when we get tired of, or annoyed by, how difficult the decision-making is becoming. When our cognitive load simply becomes too much--when there are just too many variables to try to take into account--we default to heuristics to help us make a decision and we then frame it to ourselves as ‘a good enough choice’.

Brands that engage in greenwashing want you to fall back onto these heuristics. Heuristics are part of human psychology and as such can be studied, understood, and manipulated. A few of the most common rules-of-thumb we all revert to when our cognitive loads become overwhelming, and when an optimal selection is not obvious, include:

  • Familiarity: We are more likely to choose a brand we are familiar with than we are to choose a new brand.

  • Recency: We are more likely to select a brand we were most recently exposed to from advertisements, podcasts, sports sponsorships, and so on.

  • Conformity: We are more likely to select a brand we believe our social group would select.

  • Envy: When uncertain, we are more likely to select a brand we believe our ‘aspirational-self’ would select.

  • Outsourced Trust: We are more likely to select a brand that showcases some form of certification label even if we are not sure what is behind the certification label.

In all of these, heuristics favor the status quo over change--which is ideal for brands that don’t really want to change! Again, greenwashing doesn’t need to convince you a particular brand is best, it just needs to confuse and complicate the decision-making process so you cannot easily identify which brand is actually best, and then take advantage of the landscape of human heuristics.

So when you are stuck trying to choose which brand best fits the issues you care about...and your decision-making seems to be dragging on… you are not overthinking things. Rather you are thinking through things. You are thinking through the fog of confusion that is being purposefully developed by scores of inauthentic brands and the marketing agencies that are all too happy to help them. 

Motive measures the impacts of brands across the issues we all care about.

 

Cutting Through the Fog

You want to be intentional in the impacts of your decisions, but plenty of brands out there don’t want you to be--and they are quite adept at turning the art and science of behavioral economics and psychology against you. Heuristics are part of who we are and are quite often very helpful to us, but they can also be used against us.

So, you can tell all your friends and family that you are not overthinking things. Your decisions make a difference, and you are not alone in making these decisions. We started Motive because we are done with greenwashing, false claims, manipulations, and brands that seem to have more time and money to spend on tricking us rather than on actually improving. We are also done with the frustration and time it takes to make the choices we want to make.

Motive measures the impacts of brands across the issues we all care about. Our RealScores are standardized across all brands so the RealScore you see for one brand is directly comparable to the RealScores you see for other brands. Knowing which brand is best in relation to the issues you care about is accomplished in seconds, not days or weeks. And we are just getting started--connect with us and let us know what you want to see.

Being intentional in the impacts of our shopping is powerful, but for far too long it has also been frustrating. Let Motive help--we are experts in overthinking.

 


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