This week we witnessed the final round of the Democrats' political debates for the 2020 presidential election. After languishing in the lower mid tier of candidates, Senator Cory Booker came out ahead as the shining winner.  Yes, he had concrete examples to back up his points and demonstrate his track record and leadership ability. And yes, he was able to think on his feet. But I have a theory as to why he really came through as the shining star.

He smiled. 

Booker can have his menacing moments as much as any other politician. However, fundamentally his body language and facial cues communicated to us that he is an affable, nice guy who wants to collaborate. He was very good at giving us a series of emotional cues, including, at one point, a shout out to his mother who was sitting in the audience. 

There is a takeaway here for us in business. Sometimes we can become obsessed with the functional attributes of the products and services we sell. We fall in love with the bells and whistles. 

As my colleague Federico Mammano of Teaching Entrepreneurship has said and written about, "Customers don't buy your products; customers buy their emotions." So fall in love with people's problems, because that way you will never go out of business. We are surrounded with examples that people ultimately buy stuff that speaks to their emotional needs. For example, a guy is not buying a shaver, he is buying confidence to help him look cool, hip and hygienic. A family is not buying a mortgage, they are buying a dream of independence and security. Parents are not buying organic food, they are buying symbols of prestigious care-taking. And a woman is not buying shoes, she is buying style-status and recognition among her peers. 

We are emotional creatures to the core. The Nobel Peace winning psychologist, Daniel Kahneman, proved in his experiments that people are consistently irrational in their decision making processes. We make decisions based on what we care about: an emotional driver. Simon Sinek has been admonishing us to "start with why" instead of with what we do because it pushes us further up the Maslow Hierarchy of Needs: from the physical realm of basic survival to the self-fulfillment realm.

Markets are made up of humans. Therefore, they are irrational, inconsistent and driven by emotion. When will more of us start there?

Published on: Aug 2, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.