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What is Consumer Behavior?

what is consumer behaviour

According to Wikipedia, “Consumer behavior is the study of individuals, groups, or organizations and the process that they use to select, secure, use and dispose of products, services, experiences, or ideas to satisfy needs and impacts that these processes have on the consumer and society”


Basically, how and why a consumer makes the purchase decision for one product over another. There has been many studies done and some amazing books written on the subject, however, we will look at it in the way that you as a digital marketer can change and manipulate the content on your site to appeal to the most common triggers for a purchase decision.


What needs shape consumer behavior?


According to the sales guru Brian Tracy, there are 5 needs that will share the decision making process for all consumers, and while he talks predominantly about sales that are done off line, the same concepts can be applied to the online purchasing process.




The first need is money, either making or saving money. It’s said that everyone wants to have more money, so using this is a fast and easy way to influence the purchase process. Either by developing your communications strategy to talk about the savings your product has over another, or the great value that you will get from the product that will directly relate to your making more money.


When marketing using money as a factor, you don’t always have to be blatant about it, when it’s a saving then yes, it’s probably beneficial to state that a user will save more buying your product than a competitors, or even that they will save more today buying your product than they will buying the same product from you tomorrow.


But when you’re selling to people with the ideal that they will make money, you can be much more elusive to the fact. By showing images of happy, wealthy, healthy people using your product, you are subtly saying that “you too can be this person, if you use our product” it’s also a push to increase the desire for the perceived lifestyle that the imagery portrays.




Every person has a fundamental need for Security in their life; this is the second needs that Brian talks about. Security is the safety net that all people want, that will protect them from the harsh realities that life is. All people want to be warm or cool, they want to know that they have somewhere safe to go home to and that it’s going to be there for life.


Additionally people want to be secure from financial hardship or personal trauma, but how do you market this to a customer? No one ever feels that they are too safe, or that they have too much freedom, so illustrate through your marketing that your product will instill a sense of security in their life.


Many washing brands do this, with the ideal that you can rest assured that your clothes will be safe in the wash with this brand’s soap. It won’t make the dye run or what have you. I strongly doubt that there are real concerns about that often, but it’s a common tactic.


Additionally, there is a marketing tactic that will instill a sense of fear or impending doom in you, then go on to tell you that the only way to cure that impending disaster is to use this product. Regardless of the fact that the marketing has just created a threat, you still feel that you are protected if you use the product.




The third need is being liked. Having the admiration and respect from your peers, friends or coworkers can be a very strong motivator to the purchasing decision. Making purchases that appeal to this need can satisfy our need for belonging and self-worth, commonly known as retail therapy. Purchasing to make a customer feel better about themselves is a strong motivation, and stronger still, if that purchase will give them the belief that the purchase will make others like them in return.




The fourth need that Brian talks about is purchasing to acquire status or prestige. This is a big motivator for purchasing. By owning the newest or best gadget, we can not only use a possession to show the world a little about our personality, but it can give the sense of value that was not here before.


Consumers want to feel and be perceived as valuable and important, and purchasing particular products can make that perception stronger when we feel that these positions will generate praise, interest or some sort of adulation with the ownership. This is possibly the deepest need for all the purchase motivators; this need to feel important, valued and worthwhile, in the eyes of other people, and to ourselves as well.




Possibly the most used and abused strategy to influencing the purchasing process is the use of sex, or the idea that purchasing the product will allow the customer to attain more sex. Found in most products online, it’s the most primal, illicit, the simplest response or desire, and it is the easiest to craft. This need can be a strong weapon in your arsenal of marketing communications.


Found usually accompanying status needs and self-worth needs, marketers can craft messages that inspire the idea that you need to purchase the product and you will achieve the most amazing lifestyle of health and status, and of course, with that comes the sexual conquests. Having the best cologne will get the girls crazy and your life will be like the international wealthy playboy. A simple tactic, however, works so well that most consumers are fully aware that sex is being used to sell a product, yet, will willingly purchase that product, based on the messages they are seeing.


What Brian doesn’t go into usually is the other psychological senses that help consumer behavior such as color. In a study undertaken by Rajesh Bagchi, associate professor of marketing in the Pamplin College of Business at Virginia Tech, and co-researcher Amar Cheema from the University of Virginia, they looked at how red and blue background colors on websites or on store walls influence consumers’ willingness to buy. Their research looked at the impact of color on three settings: auctions, negotiations, and fixed-price settings, such as retail stores.


In the auction environment they found that the color red increased the chance that a consumer would aggressively bid on a product to win the competition and they found that the willingness for a customer to pay went up, but found that in reverse when there was no auction, the consumer would use that same aggression to get the best possible price they could. So if you have red on your site, you may be driving your customers to a price comparison without knowing it!


Also, in a negotiation situation, they also found that red induced more of this aggressive behavior, especially in opposition to blue. The study looked at cars, red and blue, and found that the perception of the red car, was more flashy and sporty, yet all offers in a negotiation for the purchase ended in lower offers than the same model, but in blue.  In a negotiation, the winning feeling, like a consumer has in an auction, is not there, as the product is readily available and that results in a lower willingness to pay.


For western consumers there is a well-studied pallet of colors and their general behavioral response that all marketers can take advantage of and use to influence the purchasing decision on their website


By knowing these consumer needs, you will be able to tailor your marketing communications to better assess what your product does well, and how those communications can be adjusted to appeal to these needs.




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Benjamin S Powell

CEO & founder at DSA global
A Digital Marketing expert and CEO & founder of DSA Global. Ben has over 10 years experience solving complex business problems in both client and agency-side roles.

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