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Posted: 2007-09-26 / Author: Rob Graham

Crucial Questions All Consumers Ask And How To Answer Them

Have you ever asked yourself the question ‘What is it that I do that makes people want to become my customers?’ Chances are you’ve already answered this question by thinking about the quality of products or services you offer or you’re willingness to go the extra mile. And you just may be right.

As marketers a large part of our jobs is to identify those factors which cause ‘consumers’ to become ‘customers’. Certainly there are a number of different reasons behind why the people we call our customers showed up in the first place but was this just lucky chance or are there ‘recipes’ for marketing success that we can identify and repeat?

Over the years there have been countless volumes exploring the reasons behind why people do what they do. As complex as most human behavior seems, a majority of the motivation behind why we do what we do can be traced back to two simple reasons:

To avoid pain
To find pleasure

While you may not consciously reflect on these behaviors daily you can easily run a quick acid test on yourself to determine that you do balance almost every action you take every day against what that means regarding your self-preservation, biological needs (like huger, thirst, sleep, sex), emotional needs (finding and holding onto love) and social needs.

We measure much of what we do everyday against how it may affect our overall well-being. Most of us learn at some point in our lives that stepping into a busy traffic intersection isn’t prudent; nor is diving off a tall bridge into 3 feet of water. Going to the office naked is generally a bad idea, as is being overly honest if your significant other wants to know if ‘this makes me look fat’. We learn that there are ways to prolong personal longevity by avoiding certain behaviors. Sadly, we sometime learn these important lessons by watching others make tragic mistakes.

To that point, we also balance the personal value of loss and gain against each other to assess behaviors. For example, we may desire to have a lot of money but few of us would consider robbing a bank as a way to fulfill this desire. While the desire for money may be strong, the fear of arrest, loss of freedom and possible death (not to mention violating a moral sense of right and wrong) can all serve to counter-balance the desire and make us not choose this particular path toward instant wealth.

As marketers we need to understand that consumers are people looking for solutions which help them avoid pain or help them gain something of personal value. This means that we need to clearly communicate what benefits we offer and how those benefits can tip the balance toward the consumer’s gain.

It has long been said that people buy things not for the items themselves but also for the emotions related to owning those items. Think about it for a moment. If you need a car to get back and forth from work then pretty much any car will do. However, there are dozens of different types of cars, trucks, vans, SUVs and variations in between available to choose from because consumers have personal reasons for why they buy specific automobiles.

While the underlying function of all cars may be to get from point A to point B, there are a number of characteristics that come with owning a specific type of vehicle that has little to do with its actual function.

A few years ago I did some research into the driving forces behind consumer decisions and was able to identify 7 questions that consumers subconsciously ask themselves when making a purchasing decision. These are:

Will this give me a sense of possibility?
Will this give me a sense of well-being?
Will this give me a sense of convenience?
Will this give me a sense of security?
Will this make me more productive/effective?
Will this give me a sense of continuity?
Will this enhance my social standing?

It’s also important to note that most consumers don’t take action if at least one of these questions can’t be answered.

Let’s take a quick peek of each of these questions in turn.

Sense of Possibility

Possibility is huge motivator for many of us. Because we have imaginations we can project the results of a decision. Seeing that the local lottery is sitting on a record jackpot is enough to motivate many of us to drop a few bucks to get our own tickets to the big event. While the odds of us willing are astronomically against us, we generally don’t dwell on that preferring instead to think about the possibility of winning huge amounts of money and what we would do with it.

The same holds true when we watch a commercial offering the latest and greatest exercise equipment. We focus on the possibility of having washboard abs and the reaction we’ll get next time we peel off our shirt at a beach party. The fact that before we get to that new and shapely self we have to face a lot of diet and exercise isn’t where we focus. Exercise and dieting aren’t necessarily pleasurable experiences even though the results may be.

Products and services related to meeting these needs include franchising and moneymaking techniques, lotteries and casinos, investment programs, dating services, etc.

Sense of Well Being

For consumers, the question of well-being is a strong motivator. Most of us would avoid any product which can only cause us harm and instead will look for those products and services which we believe will enhance our well being. In many cases the indication of well being might be more in the mind of the consumer than in reality.

For example, it is estimated that close to $400 million dollars will be spent this year in the US for anti-oxidant supplement alone even in the face of research indicating that excess amounts of anti-oxidants in a diet might actually reduce life expectancy.

Diet supplements, another huge money making industry, offer weight loss but often at the risk of dangerous and potentially fatal side effects.

In short, we buy things that we believe are good for us even if there’s no solid reason behind those beliefs.

Products and services related to meeting these needs include foods, medicines, art, entertainment, health and wellness products, shelter, love collectibles and many consumer goods.

Sense of Convenience

We want things to be easy. That’s part of our quest for pleasure. Not that we’re all lazy but things that offer us a sense of convenience often free up our time to do other things that are more enjoyable than the task at hand.

The rise of fast food restaurants during the past few decades says less about our desire for greasy and highly caloric food choices and more about our desire to get through a meal quickly without having to go through the ritual of cooking, serving and cleaning as well.

In short, anything that saves us time and helps us to accomplish difficult or dull tasks is appealing to us.

Products and services related to meeting these needs include time saving devices, solutions to existing problems, easy-to-use and understand products, etc.

Sense of Security

As human beings, we’re already hard wired for self-preservation. In short, we react to dangerous circumstances often without consciously thinking about it. It’s known as our ‘fight or flight’ instinct.

We strive for security in our lives daily. Most of us work so that we can make money so we can afford things like homes and protection. The loss of such things is almost unimaginable to us and is often a huge motivator to keep our noses to the grindstone so that our sense of security is never breached.

We also have the ability to ask questions about our future security. Will we have enough money to live on when we’re older and stop working? What would happen to our families if we suddenly died? Do I have enough money put away to pay for my children’s education?

Products and services related to meeting these needs include insurance, investments, investment collectibles, safety devices, emergency items and personal protection.

Sense of Productivity/Effectiveness

Not unrelated to the motivators behind Security and Convenience, most of us are looking for products and services which will make us more productive and effective in the tasks we already do. Buying a new PDA can allow us to better organize our schedules; taking a night school course can help us to learn how to do a better job and increase our value to the organization; buying that new floor wax can reduce the time required to get a mirror shine on our kitchen floor.

Because we’re all striving to create the lives we want, anything that can help us with our daily tasks is a welcome addition.

Products and services related to meeting these needs include educational materials, time-saving devices, products the enhance physical and/or mentally strength, services that accomplish daily tasks (cleaning, cooking, child care, etc.)

Feeling Special/Advantaged

People like special treatment.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a deal at the supermarket for a ‘buy one get one free’ offer for all ‘gold card holders’ or becoming a member of an exclusive social club by invitation only. Being a member of an exclusive group is appealing to consumers and will motivate them to take action.

Scarcity is a tool that marketers have used effectively for years. By offering a limited number of anything along with the message ’buy now or lose your chance’ can be used to get people to take immediate action even if they don’t have an immediate or direct need.

Consumers also understand that a sale is a temporary thing and if they don’t take advantage of the offer right now they may never have the opportunity again and will feel regret.

Products and services related to meeting these needs include exclusive or limited offers, products that can be personalized, luxury products, one of a kind products, advanced, cutting edge technology.

Sense of Continuity

Human beings generally dislike change. Change is uncomfortable because it brings with it uncertainly. It also means that extra effort has to be made to adjust to the change.

Change could range from the loss of an appliance to the theft of a car to the expiration of a membership or subscription.

Marketers who can offer products that offer a sense of continuity will find receptive audiences.

Products and services related to meeting these needs include automatic bill paying services, warranties, insurance, product replacement, etc.

Sense of Social Standing

Our social standing is very important to us. Not only do we want to fit in but we also want to be seen as important members of society. In basic terms, we want others to think good things about us.

This desire for good social standing has its foundations in early human society. To be a member of the tribe meant the safety and comfort of others. To be turned away from the tribe for aberrant behaviors was surely a death sentence. Being the chief of the tribe also brought with it the benefit of greater access to food and preferred mates.

Today we still really care what other people think about us. We often buy the big house or fancy car because we want people to think we’re successful. We participate in civic activities because we want to feel like part of the community. In short, we want to belong and will buy things that show others that we do.

Products and services related to meeting these needs include fashions, cosmetics, personal grooming, self-improvement books and courses, job placement companies, large ticket and luxury items, etc.

By keeping these seven questions in mind when crafting new offers, marketers can provide answers which help consumers to meet their emotional needs and motivate them to become customers.

About the Author: Rob Graham is Dir of Training at LearningCraft, LLC., a company providing Marketing Training. Join Rob November 15th in Cambridge, MA for the Internet Marketing Boot Camp.


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