tap into the drivers of consumer behaviour

A consumer behaviour rarely just happens. Behind just about every human behaviour, there is a driver or cause. Unfortunately, these drivers are not always in plain sight.

Marketers need to understand the general (underlying) and specific (related to the purchase itself) motivators of purchase behaviour. In terms of underlying motivators of human behaviour, it is instructive to consider Maslow’s hierarchy (physiological needs, safety needs, need to belong, need for self-esteem and need to self-actualize). 

In 2021, sitting in a wealthy country, it is perhaps more helpful to consider six factors highlighted by Tony Robbins:

  • Certainty – the need to know the car will start, and you will have a job tomorrow.
  • Variety – the need to not watch the same movie every night unless you are three. 
  • Connection – the need to connect with other human beings.
  • Significance – the need to feel you are at least a little important.
  • Growth – the need to think you are bigger and better today than yesterday.
  • Contribution – the need to feel that you are contributing to your world.

Ensure your target audience believes your product will enhances certainty

I recently completed a staff survey or pulse check addressing the culture of a client organization. After surveying more than 100 staff, I was inexorably drawn to two conclusions:

  • The culture was negative and verging on the poisonous. It was certainly not consistent with the optimal functioning of the business.
  • The underlying cause of the less than optimum culture was a lack of certainty, or more correctly, a high level of perceived uncertainty.

Economic conditions and a range of other factors had conspired to make it very difficult for management to create a positive culture. The need for certainty also impacts on purchase behaviour – with consumers wanting to buy products they feel certain will perform as claimed for the period claimed. 

As much as human beings claim to seek excitement and new experiences, research has consistently found that human beings are highly motivated by certainty – that they actively seek certainty. The absence of certainty leads to aberrant behaviour. 

Deliver an enhanced perception of certainty to your target audience. 

While they need certainty, consumers also want variety. A quest for variety can also drive purchase behaviour.

While children can be quite happy watching the same movie repeatedly, the same cannot be said about most adults. Most adults, and indeed, most children seek out and respond positively to a variety of experiences. This driver of consumer behaviour is well recognized in marketing and is well reflected in advertising campaigns. It warrants no further discussion here. 

Increase the options available to consumers.

Connect with your consumers and they will connect you with profits.

Nothing impacts more on life expectancy than feeling connected. Your product will be more attractive if it facilitates connection. There is an oft-cited myth that genetics is the primary determinate of life expectancy. Research suggests that in developing countries, food availability, literacy rates, and fertility rates are more important than genetics in determining life expectancy. This and other research has demonstrated that environment is the greatest determinate of life expectancy – which in first world countries includes the desire to connect with other human beings. Human beings are social animals. Their life expectancy, especially in first world countries, is directly impacted by their happiness, which is largely determined by their level and the quality of connection with other human beings. 

Consumers are attracted to purchase decisions that can increase their feeling of connectedness. Consumers are also attracted to brands with which they feel a connection. Connection with a brand involves having shared aspirations and values. Research suggests that where there is a connection with a brand based on shared aspirations and values – the investment required in generating repeat business is lower. Research indicates that 89% of brand-loyal customers share a brands-values.

Connect with your customers and help them connect with each other. 

Never forget a name you should remember. Remembering names, orders and other personal information make buyers feel significant.

No one wants to feel insignificant. Most human beings and therefore, most consumers crave the feeling that they are important and have some significance. That is why we are all attracted to people who remember who we are, use our name, look us in the eye and show a sincere interest in us. While many people don’t need to feel they are at the top of the ladder, they need to feel they are on the ladder.

The importance of customers feeling significant is why service conscious people who work in successful businesses develop the skill of making people feel important. This is one reason I never shop at Myer – because they make their customers feel like ‘credit card couriers’. Few factors drive repeat business more effectively than a feeling of significance and related to that the customer feeling that the business appreciates their custom. 

The need to feel significant is also relevant in the commercial environment. A high profile CEO once told me that unlike his competitors – he displayed no client names or work on the public areas’ walls in their business. He said – ‘I want every client to think they are our only client’. 

Remembering a customer’s name, likes and dislikes is all part of good customer research and 73% of loyal customers say their loyalty is related to customer service. 

Make every customer and indeed, potential customer, feel like they are the only client in your world. 

If you can help people feel more today than yesterday on one or more of a range of criteria, you will be an attractive proposition.

Most human beings want to be more today than they were yesterday – smarter, richer, slimmer, faster, happier – or any combination of these and other factors. Consumers want to feel they are growing in the same way that they want to feel they are making progress in life – moving forward.

When a product is perceived as moving a consumer forward, making them more today than they were yesterday – they will be more inclined to purchase it. This certainly applies to education, fitness, relationships and quality of car etc – but it also applies to just about everything else they purchase – especially when a change of brand is being called for. A brand that is seen as offering a step up – will often be favoured by consumers.

The quote – ‘Get busy living or get busy dying’ from the movie Shawshank Redemption – suggests a similar notion. If a human is not moving forward – they feel like they are moving backwards.

It is not just gymnasiums that need to help people feel that a purchase will make them more today (or in the case of weight loss) than yesterday. Leverage this. 

The need to want to feel like a contributor extends beyond charity. If your product helps the feeling of contribution, it will be more attracted.

Consistent with the need for significance is the human need to feel one is making a difference – that the world is a slightly better place because of an action or series of actions they have taken. Hence:

  • The success of campaigns where $1.00 from every purchase goes to charity
  • Shoppers contributing to a charitable cause at a supermarket check out
  • Busy people joining the board or committee of a charity
  • Consumers making food or gift donations in the lead up to Christmas

Certainly, consumers are attracted to businesses they believe are good corporate citizens – donating large sums of money to charity or the arts. They feel even better when they know purchase decisions make directly benefiting a cause they relate to. 

In addition to these general human needs, there are many other drivers of consumer behaviour including emotions (like fear or joy), personality traits (like frugal or spendthrift), attitudes (like depressed or manic) and so on. Some of these drivers are general in nature, and others are specific to products or categories of products. 

Help your market to make a contribution to the world around them. It gives then added value and two reasons to purchase your product. 

In addition to naturally occurring drivers of human behaviour, several drivers can be manipulated by consumers. Robert Cialdini helps us understand the strategies we can all use to persuade our consumers to behave as we want them to. These include:

  • Reciprocity – giving something to get something in return
  • Commitment – leveraging the human need to be consistent
  • Social proof – the need to be seen a particular way by peers
  • Authority – the tendency to believe and obey authority figures
  • Liking – the need to like and be liked
  • Scarcity – understanding that something is in short supply

When used authentically and honestly, these are all important tools for influencing consumer behaviour. They all tap into general human needs like connection and significance. Critical in all of this is:

  • Identifying both general and specific drivers and determining how they impact on purchase behaviour
  • Developing strategies to leverage opportunities and minimize problems associated with relevant drivers

Embracing the underlying drives of behaviour within your target audience can improve results and reduce costs. 

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