Think about the car you drive. Why did you choose that one? I don’t know the answer, but I know this: You did not choose it for how much horsepower it has or its reliability ranking or what awards it won. You wanted it first, and only then did you consider the rational reasons why. And this is how it works for the overwhelming majority of purchases.

There is a dark truth in how decisions happen, and it is this: Most are made on a gut level. The rational reasons for why this and not that are taken in only after the initial decision is made, and used to justify it, first to ourselves, and then to our spouses and friends and coworkers. But rational reasons are rarely why we first choose one thing over another. We want it first, and then we tack on the reasons why.

To people selling things, there is an equally powerful flip side to this truth. If people don’t do things for rational reasons, why do they? They do it on a gut level and for values-based reasons. We buy from people we trust to do two things:

  1. Care deeply enough to understand something important, and
  2. Apply that concern to what they make or do for us.

Every company and organization worth its existence has at its core a reason for being. Someone saw a problem or an opportunity and decided to do something about it. This is the story for every worthwhile brand ever. What they created – their product or service, and eventually the organization they developed to serve it – was a tangible expression of that intangible value at the heart of everything.

Because we all know this to be true, and seek it out in making choices about where we spend our money, we now know how to create effective messaging: Build the message up from the value that led to its creation.

Let me give you an example. I’m a basketball player. I’m also a 40-something guy who sits at a desk most days, but for a few hours a week, I’m a basketball player. Every year or so, I wear out my shoes and have to buy a new pair. And I always choose Nike basketball shoes. Now, I know Adidas and Reebok and New Balance all make good basketball shoes. But I wear Nikes because I believe that Nike cares about me as an athlete. I believe in my gut that, because they care about the athlete in me, they have developed the best basketball shoes they can make (at my price). I don’t know what exactly are the performance features of my Nikes, although I know I can get online to find out anytime. To be honest, I don’t need to know anymore. From my point of view, those features are there as a direct result of their values: They care about the athlete in me, and so they’re going to make the best shoes they can for that purpose.

We make decisions like this all the time, from everyday purchases to where to live, where to go to school, whom to marry. We are all good at making accurate gut decisions based on these values. Malcolm Gladwell wrote an excellent book on just this subject, called Blink.

If you have something you believe is worthwhile to offer, step two in developing messaging (after getting clear about who it’s for) is asking yourself what led you to create this wonderfulness. If you’re honest about it, the thing that led you to create it is the very thing that can convince the right people that yours is the one they choose.

Of course, once you have their attention, how it works is important information. Once you have aroused their interest, they’ll need facts to justify their want. But until they sit up and take notice, talking about how it works will only work to turn them away from you.

Next up: Nobody cares, and why that’s a good thing