16 June 2012

How *Do* We Make Purchase Decisions?

Such a simple question. Answer it correctly and they'll rename Madison Avenue after you.

Here's the 'elevator' answer I give clients:


Suppose you're buying a car.  Many- I'd suggest most- create some sort of shopping criteria.  For instance: 
Consumer Reviews
Crash Safety
Is it Domestically Made
Available features

This is infused with personal criteria:

"I want a convertible"
"I want to leave a small carbon footprint"
"I want people to see it and say 'oooo baby!'"
"If Chrysler was good enough for dear ol' Dad, dammit, it's good enough for me."

So what drives (pun intended) the final decision?  This is the part that causes weeping and gnashing of teeth among brands, marketers and salesfolk:  

It's about comfort.

Choice is about fashion.  Really.
Ultimately, comfort with  brand- a product- a restaurant- trumps logic when making a purchase.  

People are often indignant when told this.  "Not me!" they holler, as though accused of pinching the last can of Who hash, or the rare Who roast beast. 

Comfort can originate with a memory:  the family huddled in a tent on a raining morning munching Frosted Flakes.  Often it's built on word-of-mouth- the most powerful of all marketing media.  Now and then it's based on an undefinable emotional impression created by- wait for it- a marketing campaign.  Or years of campaigns. 

And often, it's about fashion. We're being trained to judge people by the label of beer they hold at a party (trade term is 'badge brands'). About their choice of phone- Android, iPhone, or Blackberry.  About which political party they support, or whether they're a Mac or a PC .  Cars are seen as an extension of our personalities (what *is* the difference between a cactus and a Corvette?).  Sometimes- often- comfort is the avoidance of being un-cool.

Competitive brands spend King's ransoms painting an aura of un-cool around their competitors.  Nike does it by marrying their brand- by name and attitude- to victory.  Planting in consumers a nagging sense that competitor's brands are about not winning.  

Mac sucking at subtle.
Apple, by comparison, spent years personifying their main rival with pocket-protector-perfection by way of John Hodgeman's character "PC".  File Mac under 'S' for 'Sucks at Subtle.'

You can easily spend decades- as many of us have- forging a working understanding of the intangible process of purchase decisions, and how to help clients shape them.  In doing so you find yourself gravitating to two powerful conclusions:

   1.  Advertising is not a science
There is not- never can be- an algorithm for the illogical, emotional 'gut choice' that drives most purchase decisions.

   2.    Great Ads are Intuitive

The best creative marketing is the product of informed intuition, fearless 'what if' thinking, built, almost always, on a solid foundation of past mistakes.
Past mistakes are where data analysis comes in so handy.  Number crunchers can tell you tons about why people bought- past tense- or didn't buy- past tense- a product.  They help marketers understand who they're talking to, and what past mistakes to avoid. What they cannot do- ever- is tell you how to design the next campaign- the one that will shape tomorrow's purchase decisions, and offer a client's brand a favoured place in the consumer's imagination.

Step aside, you pointy-headed college kids.  This is a job for the artists.

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