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Unlocking the mystery of buyer decision making

César Montes

Global Chief Intelligence Officer & Chief Strategy Officer EMEA








We have had a year of surprises. Very few of us would have dared to predict the outcome of the Brexit referendum in Britain, or consider that Trump had a chance to win the US election, and, more recently, many are still surprised by Pedro Sanchez's victory in the leadership race for the main socialist party, the PSOE.


Why so much bewilderment? The usual belief for years has been that people make decisions based on their demographics, who they are and how they live. But the reality is that there are many other factors that influence people, and decisions are made on how these influences make people feel. This is the main reason why forecasts based on demographics or attitudes have failed; many observers did not understand the stimuli that led to people’s final decision.


A similar situation happens in marketing. Purchasing decisions are determined by the behavior of buyers, which in turn is the result of a sum of past experiences, present certainties or uncertainties, and future expectations.


We have to understand that we deal with people, not consumers or buyers; people who want to fulfill a need or a desire, people whose choice is going to be determined by their buying behavior.


We cannot effectively inspire these decisions if we do not focus on understanding how people behave along the way, and the factors that influence them along that path that affect their final decision. That is what behavioral marketing is: understanding buying behaviors to communicate much more effectively.



Many brands in different categories already think and work in this way. For example, Unilever recently announced that it is evolving the way it analyzes buyers to focus on their behavior[JB1] .


But what influences people's behavior along the way to making a decision, and how can we make use of these influences? In general, there are four types of stimuli that explain buying behavior, and which therefore teach us how to influence it.


Reason: The steps people take consciously and rationally to satisfy a need or a desire. For example, brands that get on the shopping list are much more likely to be chosen. The price of a product also has a strong rational impact.


Context: The influences that surround and impact a person while buying. For example, putting a simple mirror behind a product increases the tendency to interact with it. Or if three sizes of a drink are offered, you tend to choose the intermediate one, regardless of the quantity.


Culture: The trends and fashions that influence the decision. For example, we know that socially responsible brands are more likely to be chosen. Or that young people tend to avoid stores that do not allow them to use their mobile phone.


Emotions: The associations, subconscious in most cases, that are established between brands and types of situations or people, which determine predisposition toward a product. For example, young people tend to avoid certain brands because they associate them with "another generation", and many consumers choose products that they associate with their idols.



What does this mean for us? If we want to influence conversion, we must understand the factors that influence the behavior at each step along the path to purchase, especially in those moments that have the strongest impact on the final decision: the "pivotal moments". Creative solutions and the way they are communicated should not just be inspired by behavior; they should also change it.


Take, for example the purchase of a car, where the pivotal moment is the test drive – the moment when reason and emotion converge. Imagine that we anticipate that moment, and that we get the buyer to try our car even if they are thinking of another brand. That's exactly what Maserati did in Germany. When the buyer searches online for "test drive" for any other brand in the same category, they are immediately offered to be taken to the showroom of their choice … in a Maserati! This initiative, based on the understanding of buyer behavior, produced a 150 percent increase in test drives and a 10 percent increase in sales.


Behavioral marketing allows us to inspire, delivering a win for both buyers and brands. A great example of this in action is in Unilever’s work in Dubai for its Lifebuoy soap brand. A very simple device attached to a shopping trolley applies a thin layer of sanitizer liquid to the handle, eliminating 99.9 percent of germs with a simple pass. The benefits of the brand were evident for more than 10,000 people each day, resulting in a 53 percent increase in sales.


There are many companies that are generating successful strategies based on understanding the emotions, context, culture and the reasons inspiring people to buy differently. Marketing in the future will be based on understanding these behaviors and changing them for the better. This is the next step.