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Why We Consume, How We Decide

Andrew Cross

Andrew Cross

Consuming (or spending money to obtain something of value) is an obsession in this country. Why? Because we are looking for something to soothe the misery and uncertainty of our day to day lives.

Sounds kind of depressing, doesn’t it? But as an experiment, see how long you can go without purchasing something other than a basic necessity or THINKING about buying something. It’s nearly impossible. Some will tell you it’s natural to be always focused on consuming, healthy actually because it stimulates the economy. What do you think?

So rather than discuss the philosophical implications of a society in unrest, let’s talk about how to help soothe that pain in a way that still lets us sleep at night. If you want people to want what you have, stop trying to convince them. Being convinced is a battle. Instead, aim to create the possibility of an emotional experience and then provide the rational reasons to help justify the decision to spend.

Every purchase decision begins with a feeling, generally an emotion. The two most common motivators are hope and fear. We get hopeful that a new product or service will result in some lessening of pain. Or else we fear that avoiding a certain purchase will result in an increase in pain. In either case, the emotional activity generates an exploration.

If we look at an example, it’s easy to relate to how we all do a version of this. Let’s say your apartment isn’t air conditioned and you’re in the middle of a heat wave. The landlord won’t do anything to help so your ‘pain’ is the stifling heat. You could do nothing and wallow in your misery, move to another apartment, get a bunch of electric fans or buy window unit. Each carries its own pain.

Here comes good marketing… you see a banner ad that reads ‘Inexpensive relief from the sweltering heat wave’. This is great marketing because it provides the hope of relief without a lot of expense. It’s mysterious because it keeps something hidden. You click on the ad and get directed to a website selling window A/C units claiming 40% off list price. What happens next? Why don’t you just buy one?

You don’t buy one because you aren’t confident that it’s a wise decision yet. The hope is brewing in you but the fear of making a mistake is just as active. So remember that. As long as the fear of a bad decision is stronger than the hope of less pain, nothing happens. If you want to sell more, focus on learning this one concept until you understand it thoroughly. When you learn to stimulate hope, uncover fear and reduce anxiety, marketing is easy. When you try to convince someone that your product is the best, you generally fail and get frustrated. It’s just too easy for people to say, “No it’s not.”