One of my favorite subjects in college was psychology.  I was fascinated by the research which tried to explain why people did what they did, how they processed information, made decisions, learned from their mistakes.  I never tired of reading conflicting arguments about  nature vs nurture, and how these two elements drove human behavior.   It is not surprise, when I went on to study marketing in grad school, it was the course in Consumer Behavior which intrigued me the most.

My  professor, Dr. Thomas Reynolds had published a series of papers advancing the theory that every decision could be traced back to very basic human needs. (Food, Shelter, Companionship, Safety, etc) He believed if  you could identify which need was driving the decision, you could use that information to create messaging to drive purchase behavior.

His model begins with a simple question – “Why did you buy?”  Sounds easy enough, until you understand you never accept the first answer.  You must follow up with “why is that important, why, why, why?   Much like an annoying child your keep probing , peeling away at the layers of answers till you get to the root.

For example: Why do you drink light beer?

  1. Because it is less filling.. Why is that important?
  2. Because I can drink more, without feeling full.  Why do you want to drink more?
  3. When I go out with friends, we may spend a few hours together, I want to be able to drink throughout the evening. Why do you want to continue to drink through the evening.
  4. I feel like part of the group – Root benefit:  Companionship

How do you use this information?  You create commercials showing the companionship and good times people have drinking beer. But not everyone will answer the questions the same way.  Starting at the same point, you can head down an entirely different path.   Why do you drink ight beer?

  1. Because it has lower calories.. Why is that important?
  2. Because I can drink more, without gaining weight.  Why is that important?
  3. How I look is importnt to me..   Root Benefit: Self Esteem

For a customer who answers this way, the ads probably need to focus on attractive people, sipping beer moderatly.  Not the ‘Frat Boy” party campaign you might use to reach the inital target audience.

So how does the average small business owner use this information – Start by asking your customers why they buy, and don’t take the first answer at face value!