Sell a Product, Buy an Experience: Why People Make Purchases

Thursday, April 29, 2021 - 01:00
AIM Blog - Sell a Product, Buy an Experience: Why People Make Purchases

What you sell is not the same thing as what your customers buy.

This is not a riddle or an introduction to an ontological debate, but an important psychological truth that underpins the best practice of marketing and advertising.

What this concept ultimately comes down to is that what is sold, whether it’s a product, service, or otherwise, exists in an objective and consistent capacity — cafés sell hot drinks made from beans or leaves, car-ride services sell personal transport, and software companies sell complex configurations of ones and zeroes — but what people buy are emotions and sensations, desires and aspirations, all highly subjective experiences.

What is sold exists in an objective and consistent capacity
What people buy are highly subjective experiences

If you visit a café, obviously you know you’re walking out with a coffee in your hand, but the reason why you bought it is the energy it gives you, or because you’re with a group and everyone else bought coffee, or it’s a part of your morning routine and you feel uncomfortable starting your day without sticking to this routine. And yes, you do also just like the taste of coffee.

When you order an Uber, you’re buying convenience, or a feeling of safety, or you’re late for work and you can’t be late today because of that big presentation you didn’t have time to fully prepare for and you really don’t need that extra stress thinking if the train will get you there on time.

This doesn’t apply only to individuals either. A company doesn’t buy software; they buy a solution to a problem or a method to increase productivity and profit.

The main point to take away from this is that when the consumer is going through the decision-making process of a purchase, their mind is focused on the results of the purchase, of the future that it can create for them. People are always innately looking for change or improvement, and purchases are a common mechanism to overcome the constraints that inhibit this improvement. This consumer action of imagining a better future and finding how to achieve it is known as Jobs to be Done.

This all describes the consumer’s behaviour. Now how does this affect your operations as a producer?

Understanding and recognising the existence of this cognitive process should be the driving principle behind all of your marketing. Everyone is aware of the concept, at least subconsciously or to a minor degree; you can probably work out that the reason why they use attractive people to model cosmetics and skincare products is that people buy these items with the aspiration of being more attractive. This is the future they are seeing for themselves by purchasing the product.

Ultimately, all this means is be customer-centric, very basic advice, but what you need to do is be active and diligent in your approach. This begins with something as simple and easy as ensuring your copy avoids first-person as much as possible (it is tiresome hearing organisations speak about what they do and why; speak instead to what your customers can become or achieve) and extends all the way to in-depth analysis of data.

Imagine you operate a car manufacturer and your sales figures show that people are buying red cars at a far higher rate than all other colours. The easy response to this knowledge would be to just produce more red cars moving forward, but if you take the time to investigate why your customer’s prefer red cars — perhaps they associate red with speed or maybe they believe it will make their car more noticeable on the road and thus be a safer option — then you can tailor your marketing to better target this audience.

So in the future when devising an advertisement for what you produce, think beyond what it is and what it does and how it differs from your competitors. Place yourselves in the customer’s shoes and try to envisage their desired future, then show them how your product is the key they are looking for.

To learn how to apply customer-centric ideals to your current marketing practices, visit AIM’s Faculty of Digital Marketing. Our range of Short Courses, Vocational Qualifications, and Higher Education programs will provide you all the essential knowledge and tools to convert leads into a life-long customers.