Friday, March 2, 2007

What is it that really makes you buy?

Contrary to what marketing theoreticians would have us believe, one does not buy to satisfy inborn needs, but to build and maintain an image. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is useful to understand the consumer’s fundamental motivation, why he wants to consume — the human being has limitless desires. However, my field experience in marketing and sales, leads me to conclude to this concept’s uselessness for product development of and the construction of an argumentation aiming to convince customers. Neither does this concept allow us consumers to become aware of the fact that we consume too much and we consume badly. We buy because we believe to be fulfilling a need, without understanding what has driven us to buy.

To supplement the needs concept, as a foundation of consumption, I propose to use the notion of expects (this is a contraction of expectancies or expectations, a catchy term I have coined to best translate the French notion of « attentes »), used by Rochefort to describe the immaterial value the consumer wishes to see built-in a product; this concept allows a better understanding the consumer’s unsatisfied wants, commonly, and wrongly, called needs.

The concept of expects has the advantage of translating well the expression of needs, something marketing researchers achieve using the concept of wants. However, whereas wants convey a will to possess, expects express an expectancy to obtain certain benefits. Thus, expects better renders the idea of requirement to satisfy without adding the dimension of imminence of the decision attached to wants. In other words, if a consumer’s expects with respect to a product are satisfied, he may develop a desire for this product; this desire may then concretize in the form of a want.

The theory of expects takes into account both the product and the consumer, each expect of whom must necessarily correspond to a product component, for the latter to become « desirable ». The term component should not be taken in the strict sense of physical characteristic of the product but in the broader sense of constituent element. Thus, the name of the product, its packaging, the image created around it using advertising, and other elements, are deemed to be product components.

Countless elements influence expects, above all society’s dominant values, significant events, the evolution of a person’s concerns and aspirations, marketing efforts, etc. New expects and even of new categories of expects may thus appear at any moment. Hence, it is relatively easy to generate new expects for the consumer by offering products with original components; in fact, this is the method used by manufacturers to differentiate their respective products. Memory chips, faster, with increased capacity, and less expensive, well illustrate this phenomenon in the case of technology based products.

Consumer expects are multidimensional; a purchase may involve only one, several or all categories of expects. To account for requirements prevailing in a purchase situation I propose a non exhaustive list of ten types of expects — a list obviously subjected to social and historical variations — that can explain in a more detailed manner what the concept of expects covers. I propose a graphical representation of this list, which I refer to as the « Ring of expects » (PDF format).

To better understand the notion of expect, let us consider the purchase of a car. One may buy a specific model because of its low gas consumption (functional expect), because the brand is well rated (symbolic expect), because the vehicle is associated with an image of youth which this person seeks (aspirational expect), because of the pleasure of driving it (sensory expect), because of its reasonable price (financial expect), because the sales person’s warm welcome (relational expect), because construction makes use of recycled materials (societal expect), because the person likes the unique color of this model (aesthetic expect), because the manufacturer’s Web site features detailed and user friendly information (informational expect) and because the car may be delivered within a few days (temporal expect). I will detail each type of expect in forthcoming chronicles.

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