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While driving to work last week, I found myself singing along to a few old favourite Christmas tunes. We all know the songs; we’ve heard them a thousand times before…

“I’m dreaming of a white Christmas…It’s the most wonderful time of the year…Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…It’s Christmas time, there’s no need to be afraid…”

It struck me that it always seems to be the same songs played on repeat at this time of year. Why haven’t we moved on? Why is it that we return to the same festive tunes every year and happily sing them in the car (in private!) or at our office Christmas parties (not so private!)? What is creating this loyalty?

The answer is they are not just songs – they ‘are’ Christmas.

It’s because of what the songs represent, the memories they arouse, the nostalgia, how they make us feel – family, friends, laughter and a few days of holiday!

We continue to make the decision to ‘buy’ these songs and are unwaveringly loyal because of the positive emotions they evoke. If they were simply ‘just songs’ and we were making rational decisions, we would have consigned them to the history books a long time ago!

Why is this discourse on our choice of Christmas tunes at all relevant to professional services firms?

The paramount influence of emotions on decision making

The answer is that feelings and emotions play a similarly large part in every business decision. Although many of us may think of ourselves as thinking creatures that feel, biologically we are feeling creatures that think.

The Science Behind Emotions in Decision Making

1. Rational vs. Irrational Decisions:

Human behaviour reflects the interaction between two processes – an emotional process and a rational process. When evaluating brands, fMRI neuro-imagery shows that buyers primarily rely on the emotional process (personal feelings and experiences) rather than the rational process (information, data, features, facts, figures, attributes).[i]  Interestingly, while some people would strongly disagree that they let the emotional process outweigh the rational response, this could be because they are not even conscious of how emotion is driving their behaviour.[ii] 

2. Intuition and Gut Feeling in Decision Making

Humans are born with an automatic mechanism that memorises our emotional reaction whenever we face a new experience. When confronted with a similar decision in the future, we affix values to each option based on emotions from previous related experiences.[iii] These stored memories are often called a ‘hunch’, ‘gut feeling’ or ‘intuition’ which guide our decisions.[iv] 

3. The Role of Nostalgia

Recent studies conducted into the role of ‘Nostalgia’ in decision-making have found that nostalgia is a deeply social emotion that generates a positive effect, maintains and enhances positive self-regard, strengthens social bonds and imbues life with meaning.[v] 

Nostalgia is an organising emotion, strengthening group membership and developing collective identities and is also deeply personal and related to your own identity. In a nostalgic experience the mind is “peopled”[vi] and symbolic ties with others are affirmed.  These meaningful bonds contribute to a sense of safety and secure attachment, which when coupled with a positive effect, could be a significant driver of loyalty.

The Implications for Professional Services Firms:

It is all too easy to forget in business that we are dealing with people – feeling creatures that think. The most successful firms are able to engage with their clients on an emotional and personal level by gaining attention, being memorable, raising empathy, creating positive experiences and demonstrating behaviour that clients want to associate with and believe in.

The strategies and behaviours necessary to achieve this ambition have to be learned, practiced, modelled and refined but when applied successfully the consequences on loyalty and buying behaviour can only be positive. The ultimate achievement surely arises when the client no longer associates with the firm as a ‘service-provider’ but recognises the firm as part of their own self-identity.

What are the practical implications for professional services firms?

1. Firm-wide behaviours need to match the firm’s values and ‘brand narrative’ to create consistent, meaningful experiences for clients

2. Know which emotions will drive a specific client’s behaviour – thoroughly research your audience and stakeholders

3. Use Storytelling to engage emotions– resonate, be memorable, raise empathy, affect behaviour and grab the emotional strings of your clients and prospects

4. Be personal, be authentic, create relationships that form a positive emotional connection

5. Aim to create a sense of nostalgia with clients to drive loyalty

Differentiate by emotional impact

Professional services firms should remember that business decisions are never simply about price, ability, functionality, technical skills or business acumen – which many firms can offer – but about how the firm can differentiate itself by emotional impact.

To quote Maya Angelou:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

This Christmas time, as you once again find yourself singing along to Wham, Band Aid, Slade, Wizzard, The Pogues and Shakin’ Stevens, recognise that it has never been just about the songs, but about the positive emotions and feelings they elicit.

In a sense, the songs represent who we want to be and how we wish life could always be. It’s for that reason our loyalty hasn’t shifted for decades.

Now imagine in a business context if you could stimulate these same positive emotions and feelings in your own clients? Perhaps then, in 30 years time, they will still be singing along to your tune…


[i] How Emotions Influence What We Buy –
[ii] Do You Make Buying Decisions Based on Logic or Emotion? A Tale of Two Chickens:
[iii] Damasio, A. (1994). Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain, Putnam Berkley Group, Inc.
[iv] The Last Thing You Want Your Customers to Do: Think –
[v] Nostalgia – from cowbells to the meaning of life –
[vi] Hertz, D.G. (1990). Trauma and nostalgia: New aspects of the coping of aging holocaust survivors. Israeli Journal of Psychiatry and Related Sciences, 27, 189–198 from “Nostalgia – from cowbells to the meaning of life” –

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First Published: December 2017