The ‘why factor’: The Emotions Behind Your Decision to Buy.

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Why would an old woman in her eighties prefer a sports car to a saloon car? Does it make her feel good, young or just the lead of adverts?

Marketers of automobiles and just about everything else distinguish between a product’s tangible benefits and underlying end-benefits. Grandma may have needed a car that is more reliable, which is a tangible benefit. But the sports car makes her feel young, vivacious, sexy … whatever. It’s easy to say that emotional end-benefits won the day.

Research is used to identify the end-benefits that consumers derive from products so that marketers can create more effective advertising. This same approach can be used by consumers to make better purchase decisions themselves and perhaps avoid the costly mistake of buying something for the wrong reasons.

The first step is to put aside the illusion that you are an objective, rational decision-maker who makes purchases based on expected utility or some other quantitative evaluation of value. Once you accept that emotions are a powerful influence on your behavior, you can take steps to bring that influence under control. Some emotional end-benefits are valuable. Others, less so. The goal is to understand the emotions that are influencing you so that you can choose which to accept or reject.

Here is an exercise that will enable you to understand what motivates your behavior. It is the same approach that marketers use in their research. This example might be for a young man or woman.

  • First, think of a product you would like to buy. “How about an Apple iPad.”
  • Good. Now ask yourself what the apparent benefits are of an iPad? “I can do work tasks like creating documents; watch movies – many for free; read books and magazines; play games; and explore hundreds of thousands of cool apps.”
  • OK. But you can do most of those things on your computer, Kindle and iPodTouch. What is the end-benefit of being able to do all that on one device? “With an iPad I’ll look like a digitally hip person.”
  • What’s the end-benefit of looking like a digitally hip person? “I’ll attract some really cool friends.”
    And what the end-benefit of having really cool friends? “I’ll have greater self-esteem and more self-confidence.”

Understanding underlying motivations can help us spend our money on the products from which we will get the greatest satisfaction and enjoyment. In this case, the chain of end-benefits has taken the consumer from the iPad’s physical attributes to the emotional satisfaction that will be derived from owning the product.

As for grandma and her sports car, not only is she happy but feels young and admired by friends.

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