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Psychology of the purchase decision: Why does one buy?

The following article (without Peter Metzinger's quote) appeared originally in German on the following website:

"Very often we hear that Campaigning is applied psychology. It is therefore necessary to understand psychology and psychological drivers of change, it is the fundament of every well designed strategy." Peter Metzinger

Find out which psychological factors influence consumer purchasing behaviour and what companies can learn from them.

8pm in Germany - a permanent click goes through the online shops, clothes, computers, shoes, furniture and books are placed in the virtual shopping baskets. With a plus of 11.4 percent, gross sales of goods in e-commerce continued to grow at a double-digit rate in 2018. When it comes to larger purchases, trade journals are also rolled out, communities searched, test results read, prices compared or friends asked before buying.

So are purchasing decisions really rational? Are all the purchases necessary? What triggers them and which triggers trick consumers over and over again when they are not actually looking or even want to save money? The psychological factors that influence consumers' buying behavior are very diverse.

Photo by Cianorte, Brazil on Unsplash

Emotional associations lead to irrational decisions

According to the Gesellschaft für Konsumforschung, German consumers buy almost every other day. From a purely economic point of view, the focus is solely on the greatest possible advantage (i.e. maximum rationality). In fact, rational considerations in the purchase decision, whether for a new telephone or legal expenses insurance, are rather secondary, because the human brain acts associatively, interpretatively and selectively. Accordingly, people often do not act rationally, but from the emotional level. 70 to 90 percent of all decisions alone are made subconsciously and are only suggested to consciousness for the final nod. Many purchasing decisions are based on the emotional connection to the product: the consumer buys a product because it conveys a good attitude towards life.

Marketing managers should therefore focus their strategies and actions on the emotional needs and motives of their potential customers.

Man is irrational from the ground up

On the one hand, a balanced diet with healthy ingredients, preferably organic, for a good body feeling and to prevent diseases. On the other hand, lovers of high-risk sports such as free climbing or motor sports. Does one life exclude the other? No, because man is irrational by nature and has two opposites in him: one part thinks rationally and acts responsibly, the other part is spontaneous and thinks short-term. And the same goes for buying decisions. It also becomes clear that consumers can be emotionally motivated to buy clothes, gadgets, books or music more quickly than with large, very expensive purchases. In general, buyers want to feel good when they buy something and underline a certain attitude towards life. However, today's generations are increasingly influencing purchasing decisions from a moral and ethical point of view. When buying, not only the personal benefit is sought, but also targeted alternatives with social impact are decided.

Nowadays, sustainable companies and products stand out positively from the competition and thus have an additional influence on consumers' purchasing decisions.

Heuristics for decision support

From the most varied tastes of the favourite bar and individually configurable laptops to personalised telephone tariffs - consumers are confronted with an immense variety of products and information in every situation. Choosing the optimal offer for themselves is becoming an increasingly difficult undertaking. Here, so-called heuristics prove to be helpful anchors that can be applied in many different ways: Based on the availability heuristics, the brain selects this option more often when there are different choices, which is similar to something that the customer remembers quickly and easily. Brands have a big influence on decisions. Customers like things they know and think they are good. In addition, they sometimes associate a brand with certain emotions and a certain feeling, which one then buys along with it.

According to this, products are not compared according to certain characteristics, but unconsciously on the basis of statements such as "That worked well last time, so I'll take that again" or whether the recognition strategy ("Do I take the no-name lotion or that of Dove? Dove's is more familiar to me, and friends also use it.").

"Social proof: The power of the masses

Attitudes or cultural imprinting - all experiences made in the course of life influence behaviour and ultimately decisions. Likewise, influences that are artificially created are underestimated. Everyone is of the opinion that he buys a certain product because it is objectively the best. This self-assessment is not due to the fact that one is actually uninfluenced, but to the fact that these influences are often not noticed and are therefore underestimated. Thus other humans, usually from the direct surrounding field such as family or friend circle, exert a strong influence on the purchase behavior. But statements in the media or in communities are also far-reaching levers for what other people buy or how they evaluate certain products.

Each person orients himself towards the behaviour of others and concludes from this the appropriateness for his own actions. Especially when certain decisions are difficult, the behaviour of others gives an orientation about what is appropriate. For exactly this reason, customers frequently buy products that are currently trendy and are bought by everyone - according to the so-called "social proof" principle: one reason why friendship advertising is one of the most successful marketing tools to date and influencer relations have been experiencing a real boom for years. 84 percent of consumers make their decisions based on personal recommendations. By speaking out in favour of a brand, friends or influencers improve the value and brand perception of a company and encourage users to buy through the close basis of trust.

Emotional aspects more important than ratio

Purchase decisions are multi-causal and complex processes. The button that can be pressed in favor of a product does not exist. Every product always has a subjective value for the buyer. Psychological factors mask thae economic principles, which stand for maximizing the actual benefit. This subjective value can differ greatly from the objective value. This is especially the case when emotional aspects such as "liking something", "assigning personal value to something" or cognitive factors such as "mental account management" play a role.

How can companies use the purchase psychology for themselves?

Every purchase decision is based on an emotion, even if many people still think they are making a purchase decision based on facts and figures. Marketers should therefore adapt their sales strategies to the emotional needs of their target groups. For insecure customers, the swarm effect helps: Here, buyers trust the opinion of the majority. It is therefore important for companies to publish the satisfaction, success stories and customer ratings of existing buyers. These increase the credibility of platforms and products. Because: Articles with positive evaluations can reach a strong turnover increase.

In order to be able to use recommendation marketing as a free form of advertising in your own company, some preparations must be made. These consist of convincing the customer. This includes the fact that the products and services offered are of a particularly high quality. Thus content buyers communicate their positive experiences also acquaintances and relatives.

Basically, however, it should apply: Sales promotion is one thing, but responsible use of the advertising psychologist's resources is another. Especially if you have knowledge about psychology and can influence the customer, you should handle it responsibly.

************* Promotion *************

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Dafür hat business campaigning GmbH das Target Community Lab™ entwickelt, ein spezielles Workshop-Design, das schon seit 15 Jahren Laien befähigt, Kampagnen-Konzepte zu entwickeln. Zum Beispiel die Kampagne für den Schweizer Kinohit «Mein Name ist Eugen».

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