What motivates the consumer?

Business people need to have some understanding as to why people make buying decisions.

It does not mater who you are or what product or service you are offering, you need to have some understanding as to why people make buying decisions. While much has been written and many theories have been put forward the bottom line is that you need to be able to satisfy a need.

This will involve dealing with some basic psychology and for this I will turn to the work of Abraham Maslow. He is considered the founder of humanistic psychology which is based on the study of people who are mentally healthy rather than those who are ill.

In his motivational theory he stated that people in general are constantly in the state of wanting. They are in a constant struggle to fulfill needs no matter how many they have already satisfied.

He classified these needs into five levels that he referred to as ‘the hierarchy of human needs.’ If you can relate your product or service to satisfying these basic needs you will be on your way to success.

In the first level the needs are physiological. This is basic survival such as food, shelter, water and clothing.

The second level is comprised of the needs surrounding safety and security: health and well-being, employment, financial and any other safety net that would relate to personal and family security.

In moving up to the third level which is focused on love and belonging this means that people are looking for acceptance, affection and friendship.

The fourth level is one of the most intriguing as it deals with esteem. The needs that are involved here focus on recognition, respect, prestige, importance, achievement and independence. In other words a lot of ego-boosting products and services.

Maslow’s highest level is the need for self-actualization. This is where people fulfill their need to be the best at who they are and what they do: the best athlete, the best mom or dad, the best employee, the best on the block and so on.

In looking at these various levels of needs we can break them down into two categories, functional and emotional.

In functional we see the many products and services that can be measured in a tangible way. The no-touch car tire cleaner or the bathroom spray that does all the work for you. It is also the services that will help make your personal or business life easier.

The other category that needs consideration in a marketing and communications plan is the emotional component. Does your product or service make someone feel good, important or attractive?

With all that has been written, it must be remembered that people do not always buy for just one reason. There are many factors that can come into play. However, if you do have a good handle on who your customers are and can provide a product or service that appeals to both their emotional and functional side, and addresses some of their needs, then they will be more inclined to open up their wallets or budget.

One final thought: the basic principles of marketing and communication have not changed in decades. Maslow’s theory, which is included in many university business courses, is just as relevant as it was when it was first put to paper … in 1943.

Joe Smith is a communications consultant and an accomplished fine artist. He can be reached via email at joesmith@shaw.ca.

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