Cracking the Code: How do consumers buy?

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Truth of the matter is NO ONE really knows. Think of yourself looking at a shelf in a supermarket .How do you select a shampoo every time? Are you basing your choice on previous experience? Recommendation? Perceived quality? Good price? Television commercial? In-store promotion? Or you just like it? OR you do not know?

This question has puzzled marketers and researchers over time but no concrete answer has been found.

The problem is that when you ask consumers why they bought this brand, they tend to rationalize .They would tell you “it is of good quality” for example. This may be true but it may not be the driver for choosing this particular brand over another. There are many other good quality brands in the market but why this one?

Consumers prefer not to reveal certain emotional motives to others and sometimes not even to themselves. Consumers would like to believe that they make decisions based upon purely objective criteria about the product or service at hand. The fact that there maybe hidden emotional motivators to their purchase decision threatens them. That is why, for example, so many people would say that advertising doesn’t affect them!>

Many consumers are also not open about revealing what they feel and think in their hearts and minds about the brands they are buying. They would not want you to know what makes them tick for fear that marketers will take advantage of them ‘try and sell them something’. They would never reveal the ‘hidden persuaders’!

Researchers have tried out many techniques to reach those hidden persuaders and understand how emotional benefits wield their influence in the consumer’s subconscience. So far, we have been able to know how a brand or brand activity (concepts, advertising, names, taglines, etc) makes someone ‘feel’ but we need more , like how to set the mood and tone for our advertising, or how to fix any bad feelings which may emerge . We simply need directions to our creative efforts.

Obviously, what we currently know is not enough that is ‘the emotion only’ but we need to move to the ‘Emotional Benefit’. This is a must-know in brand development. An emotional benefit is a complex, positive, cognitive statement which consumers are able to make about themselves due to their use and attachment to your brand and its features. It is nothing more than “Something nice I can say about myself because I use your product or service”. 

Building the emotional benefit is so vital to branding .We want a life time relationship with our target, and this is only possible if we understand the core values and principles, which they use to define them.

A vital brand builds a ‘relationship’ with its users where they feel that the brand is positively contributing to his/her sense of self. If there is a fall out in the relationship, it is because perceived negatives begin to outweigh the rewards of the association. This is when your customers shy away from your brand.  

You see, it’s not really that mysterious at all. Emotional benefits are (usually unconsciously) attached to specific elements of a brand. A brand then, becomes nothing more than the profile of self-concept-supporting statements that people make via their attachments to its features and advertising/messaging.


For example:

q       I am an intelligent person because I found low-fee mutual funds at X bank.
q       I am an attractive person because I am wearing this particular color of Lipstick.
q       I am a cool person because I own a mobile phone that sends picture messages.


A common objection to this theory is that certain categories are purely rationally driven and thus do not respond to emotional branding. This is nonsense, for every rational feature; there is a desire for the support of some aspect of self-concept. 

Consider for a moment a market driven entirely by price sensitivity. In such a market, competitors could only compete via their respective abilities to keep their cost-structure low and out-bid each other in a price war. However, because there are emotional benefits attached to price, and these emotional benefits will differ depending upon the particular market and category one is assessing.  For example, there are 2 primary emotional benefits associated with saving money; one is freedom, the other is security.

So understanding these emotional benefits that might be attached to brands would help you lead the creative mood and tone of brand messaging. You would want to talk differently to people who most desire freedom than you would to people most desire security.  Herein would lay the competitive branding advantage in what the rest of the world viewed as a virtually un-brandable, price-driven commodity!

However, a common mistake is to raise the emotional benefits to the level of awareness, which takes away their power. Some advertisers will try and force the emotional benefit by telling the consumer directly. This doesn’t work nearly as well as indirectly communicating these benefits via an emphasis on the features of the brand, which support them, and with the creative mood and tone of the brands messaging.

Emotional benefits work beyond the awareness of the customer. It is the very fact that they are so elusive and hidden, which makes them so very powerful and persuasive. The fact that people don’t want to admit to using brands as a method of partially supporting their self-esteem forces them to bury them in the subconscious. They will not admit that they buy this product because they will make them look sexy. So you as an advertiser do not go and stick it in their face!

As marketers and researchers, there’s nothing more important to us than building and growing a strong brand. And there’s nothing more critical to this effort than understanding what truly drives the purchase of our product. This means identifying the core values of our target audience what matters most to them and then delivering on those values. The home run is when the key features and advertising messages of our brand tie directly back to what consumers want most to believe about themselves!

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