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How we decide to buy

“90% of all purchasing decisions are made subconsciously.” No matter what your business, that’s a scary number, because it means people aren’t rational; they aren’t weighing the pros and cons of doing business with you as much as they’re rationalizing a gut decision. Aside from what that says about our free will (oh man, that’s a whole debate we aren’t gonna get into here), it can make the selling process a much more complicated beast than you would think.

It’s not enough to convince them that making the purchase is smart. You have make them want it.

And desire is a powerful emotion driven by lots and lots of different factors. But what it comes down to is that the human brain is mostly running on autopilot, so subconscious factors drive purchasing decisions to a massive degree. And the products that evoke emotions are the products that win.

That can take a lot of forms. Familiarity is a powerful one. So is nostalgia. Fear, too, is a powerful motivating factor. The desire to be happy or to feel loved or popular – these are powerful associations we all know branding experts love to exploit.

We’ve talked a lot about this before, but I don’t think we’ve ever been this direct about it. At Hudson Fusion, we love to talk about David Ogilvy’s principle that, in a grocery store full of identical cake mix, we’ll pick the one that makes us feel the best about purchasing it. Which is why we spend such an inordinate amount of time on branding.

Let’s talk about something like Mountain Dew. Mountain Dew is, ultimately, a caffeinated citrus beverage. Beyond the taste, there’s really no reason to go with Mountain Dew over Sierra Mist or Sprite or anything else. They’re basically the same.

But where they differ is in the emotions their brands try to evoke. There’s nothing inherently about Mountain Dew that makes you into some kind of extreme sports superhuman, but the strong imagery associated with the soda means that the kind of person they are trying to reach is someone who wants to do that stuff, or wants to feel like that. And drinking that soda evokes, in a little satisfying sense, that emotion.

One of your major goals in positioning your company is to do the same thing: evoke emotion. What sells your product is your story more than the quality of your wares.

Pain Points

So how does this work?

Well, first thing. Your customers are out there shopping around because they have some kind of problem to solve. Whatever that problem is, it’s something they’re frustrated by enough to want to make it go away instead of ignoring it (which is why, admittedly, I haven’t done anything about that broken faucet handle. Still works fine!). So if they’re out there shopping, it means it’s stickin’ in their craw something awful.

So you want to remind them of that fact. And you build your whole story around this: not about how great you are, but about how much they want their problem to go away. And here’s where things get really interesting: what exactly is the problem?

Looking at something practical like kitchen cleaner, I can see a bunch of ways to articulate the problem. You have a dirty kitchen. You have a dirty kitchen and you have children. You have an unsanitary kitchen. You have a kitchen that is possibly unsafe. You have a kitchen you can’t show to guests. You find cleaning up really difficult and need something faster. You don’t like the smell of your current kitchen cleaner. You don’t like how effective your cleaner is. You need something that can tackle the tough, caked-on grease that’s ruining your beautiful home.

And each one of those angles appeals to a different emotion, and will attract a different buyer. One goes to a homeowner. Another to a commercial housekeeper. One to a college student. The next to a worried mother.

People will buy based on how you make them feel, and you can influence that once you know what it is they’re worried about or trying to achieve. Building your brand around that goal is how you differentiate yourself and attract an audience – right at the same time.