The Rational and Not So Irrational Reasons Why Customers Buy

Why a customer buys a product has exactly two sets of reasons:

  1. Rational
  2. Emotional (I would have labeled it irrational, but a reason however irrational it may sound to one is perfectly rational from the buyer’s perspective)

This is just a classification so it is trivially true even though this reads like a generalization. Any reason can be tagged as either rational or emotions and I will expand on these in a moment. This is true for consumer products or B2B buying processes. What varies is  share of each component in the overall buying decision.

The Rational reasons are rooted in “needs”, based on objective evaluation of product attributes, its price, and comparing it to all other alternatives. We can write the Rational reasons to be driven by two components,

  1. Price
  2. Functional attributes (utilitarian benefits)

Emotional reasons are rooted in “wants”, they are the hedonistic reasons. These are all reasons other than those directly driven by the product’s functionality even if the reason is rooted in a product attribute. For instance, a customer buying a 1.5 Tonne truck may also have emotional reasons for rooted in the size of the truck. The emotional reasons are driven by

  1. Stories we tell ourselves (Brand, feeling, Price level etc)
  2. Stories we think others will tell about us (Brand, conspicuous consumption, “nobody gets fired for hiring IBM”)
  3. The Unknown ( this is the unquantifiable part, examples include habit, apathy and nepotism)

What does this classification mean to you as a marketer, product manager or entrepreneur?

It is important for you know all the reasons a customer is buying your product. The reasons vary across:

  1. Product Categories
  2. Purchase Occasions
  3. Customer Segments

You cannot simply copy a template that worked for someone and apply it for your situation, especially when you read a compelling narratives about certain brands. Zappos may have did it, that does not mean you could or should.

Do not confuse product attributes with the reasons why a customer is buying. A customer buying $250 Nimbus 2000 at Harry Potter attraction at Universal Florida is not buying it to fly or sweep.

You cannot focus on any one aspect thinking that alone drives your customer decision. For customers it is always a trade-off and the trade-off as said before isn’t static even for the same customer. You may buy a $12 bottle of wine for your own consumption but when you buy wine as a gift you are thinking about “what stories the host will say about you”.

You cannot also take the shortcut of giving more of everything in the name of delighting everyone.  If you did then you either price it so high that it is unattractive to most or price it too low that you are not making profit from your value-add.

You need to find out what is relevant to the segments you are targeting and deliver them a version at a price they are willing to pay for.

That is marketing strategy!