Since the beginning of time, business owners have wrestled with the question “why are my customers buying?”
A lot of behavioral research and tons of your hard-earned tax dollars have been spent trying to figure this out, and the overwhelming consensus among business scholars is that there are two reasons, and only two, why anyone buys anything:
Needs and wants.
But I respectfully disagree. About a year ago I posted a video on YouTube called “How to Sell (Just About) Anything to (Just About) Anybody” (to see the video, go to www.youtube.com and search for “how to sell”). In that video, which has had almost 78,000 views in the last year, I make the argument that what really motivates buyers are their “passions” (what turns them on and gets them excited) and “fears” (what worries them and keeps them awake at nights).
The vast majority of viewers think I’m on to something there. But quite a few readers don’t. Here is a typical response from a recent viewer:
“Fears are understandable for sure but I can see passions as just a subset of ‘wants’. To me people buy when they have a discrepancy between what they perceive as ideal and what they currently have. A BMW is a passion but more people buy Chevy’s or Toyotas than BMW’s or Porsches by a long shot. A Toyota is not a passion but a practical method of getting around relatively cheaply.
What about food at the supermarket? Potatoes and lettuce are not a passion but more a wanted thing. What about gas for the car? Oil is the biggest business around. What about computers? Not a passion for a lot of people but they buy them to do certain wanted things for business or home. Cleaning supplies for the home? Furniture? Same thing. People also buy things to improve their circumstances rather than passion. Can you clarify these areas?”
At a basic, existential level, people do “need” things. If you don’t eat, sooner or later you starve. If you can’t get to and from your place of employment, sooner or later you will lose your job.
But when you buy food, you don’t buy it in the abstract. You buy something very, very specific to satisfy your hunger. And whether you buy organic Brussels sprouts or a Big Mac hamburger with bacon and melted cheese has everything to do with your passions and fears. If you buy the Brussels sprouts, you are nervous about your health (or perhaps passionate about losing those extra 20 pounds before bikini season). If you buy the Big Mac, you are passionate about meat and savory flavors.
The same with cars: you can get to work each day driving a beat-up 20 year old Toyota (as I do) or a shiny red Maserati. Both will get you there, but the one you pick has everything to do with your fears and/or passions. If you drive a Maserati, you want everyone to be jealous and envious of you (at least people with Y chromosomes). If you drive a 20 year old car of any make and model, you are either concerned about saving money for other things that are more important to you than your car (fear) or you are passionate about reliability, dependability and relatively low maintenance costs (20 year old Toyotas are truly amazing cars – if properly maintained they will rust away to nothing before they wear out).
Most products and services can be sold using either “fear” or “passion”. A bottle of perfume or cologne can be sold to people who want to appear more attractive sexually, or they can be sold to people who don’t want to smell badly. Viagra® products can be sold to people who want to enhance their sexual performance, and to people who are afraid they won’t be able to perform at all if the opportunity arises.
Marketing professionals have a very large word for this – “segmentation” – but what it really boils down to is looking at a certain demographic of people and determining whether a “fear sell” or a “passion sell” will be more effective with that demographic. Look closely at any ad on television, online, in a newspaper or magazine, and ask yourself two questions:
- what type of people is this ad targeting?
- is it using a “fear sell” or a “passion sell”?
You will almost always be able to do it, and when you can’t, the ad probably isn’t very effective because it’s “message” isn’t clear enough.
As a lawyer, I can tell you that people do not call their lawyers when they are having a nice day – it’s all about fear. Or perhaps, if someone feels they have been wronged, the desire for revenge (“I want to sue the b—-“), can be driven entirely by passion.
If you have trouble thinking of passions, think about the Seven Deadly Sins: pride, lust, greed, envy, anger, sloth (laziness) and gluttony (eating and drinking too much). We all have them to one degree or another, and entire industries have been built on each one. Which one are you trying to satisfy in your business?
Cliff Ennico (email@example.com) is a syndicated columnist, author and host of the PBS television series ‘Money Hunt’. This column is no substitute for legal, tax or financial advice, which can be furnished only by a qualified professional licensed in your state. To find out more about Cliff Ennico and other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit our Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2015 CLIFFORD R. ENNICO. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.