Why People Buy • New Tricks
 In Branding

Why People BuyRecently the control panel for my 17-year-old stove wore down to where you couldn’t see the digital temperature display—and they don’t make the display part any longer. The stove and oven worked fine and  I could have looked a little harder for a repair shop that still carried outdated parts. I decided, however, that I wanted a new range and not just any range: I wanted a stainless steel commercial model with 18,000 BTU burners and blue knobs that perfectly matched my kitchen ceiling.

My decision was a perfect example of ignoring a rational analysis of the options. And I am not a weird outlier. Emotions are the drivers of most decisions we make everyday, a fact that is is really important to marketers and should be for all of us.  When we write website or marketing copy, if we don’t consider that people buy based on emotions, we will not make sales.

If you provide a logical and buttoned-up description of your products and why someone would want to buy them, your website will get overlooked. To nudge someone to take action, your words need to make an emotional connection.

The challenge is that most of us were taught to write logically. And logic isn’t what sells.

My training as a psychologist included writing formal research papers, which involved finding studies published in scientific journals that supported the thesis of my paper. These were boring papers that demonstrate the way so many of us were taught to color within the lines. Creative, persuasive writing rarely was rewarded, so over time it was beaten out of most of us.

When I first started blogging, my content was mostly cut-and-dried tutorials. Over time, my writing has become more free and more me; I have become much more effective in reaching people through my blog posts and making an emotional connection. I know that when the time is right, they will choose to work with me.

Considering E-Factors

Business coach, copywriter and marketing expert Dan Kennedy has spent his career studying buying behaviors and says that emotions are always the reason for the sale. Only after the transaction do people apply a logical explanation or justification for their purchases. Kennedy labeled these emotional drivers “E-Factors.”

Generic E-Factors include fear, guilt, pride, greed and love. Other E-Factors are specific to different groups. Wealthy people, for example, have certain drivers such as avoiding insecurity, wanting to appear up to date, feeding emotional emptiness, giving themselves a gold star and not wanting to be found out. Like kids in a high school clique, Kennedy says, the wealthy can be very sensitive to judgment by their chosen group, desperate for acceptance and secretly feel that others may be better than them.

Another group called “wealthy wannabes” demonstrate emotional drivers that are more aspirational. They get a gym membership but never use it. In my line of work, these are people desperate to have a successful online business who buy expensive “how to” programs and never get around to doing the work it takes to be successful.

Divvying people into categories based on their income or their age group, however, does not reveal the nuances of their emotionally-driven purchases. Labels are not going to help you write effective emotionally impactful marketing copy. Directing marketing to an age-based market segment is missing a the magic ingredient—what makes people buy what you are selling? You have to do more legwork.

Getting to Why

MercantileGiven that people aren’t rational when it comes to making decisions to buy, how do you take that into consideration when trying to attract them to your site and then get them to take action?

The key is to find out and understand the worldview of the people who want your products. Once you know how a group of people feels about something you will have the key to speaking their language and connect with their spending decisions.

The Mercantile

As an example, let’s look at boomers. They are a huge population, and they generally want to spend their money. People of their age will respond to certain things, and we know that nostalgia can be very persuasive. I have been struck with the number of stores and restaurants designed in a way to remind us of times that are portrayed as simpler and better in some way. In my neighborhood alone we have several good examples of this. At the corner of my street is  The Merchant, a retail store that is my favorite place for gifts. Check out their website and you will see exactly what I’m talking about.

And there are plethora of restaurants that work on us in the same way. WH Stiles Fish Camp, is a new restaurant at the Ponce City Market which is another center of nostalgia.

WH Stiles Fish Camp

For these boomers and other consumers with a nostalgic mindset, the present is full of our day-to-day problems and the future is fraught with uncertainty, so they romanticize the past. Products and services that remind them of better days appeal to their emotional side—and that’s where buying decisions are made.  

Which brings me back to the cooktop example. What kind of person would buy an expensive stove with blue knobs? What are their beliefs and values? I am in the boomer age range but not all boomers would respond the same way to that stove.

Sometimes emotion is about color. I know I did not need that stove, but I justified my emotion with some logic: It would be good for another 15 years and it looked really great in the kitchen. It makes me happy when I look at the stove and see how those knobs match my ceiling, the container of sea salt and the new Dutch oven I got for Christmas. Yes, it works well, like my other stove that connected with my practical side—but not my emotions. This stove is more me.

Judi StoveMy emotionally driven decision to buy my fancy stove makes me part of a tribe of practical design fanatics who like to cook. If I were writing copy to this group, I would present a fantastic opportunity: If one has to spend money on a major appliance, one should seize the chance to buy a beautiful one with bright blue knobs.

The trick is to know your customer’s beliefs and values so well that you know what makes them tick and why they buy. Think about them as their own tribe with their own language about these things that are important; they are a group who really, really need and want what you provide.

From this knowledge, you can write the words they need to hear. You have to be willing to go out on a limb with a message that will make your ideal clients stop in their tracks.

It isn’t easy. Even business owners want to fit into our cliques and avoid anything that makes us look foolish. But playing it safe isn’t doing you any favors. By writing the same kind of safe, logical, bland copy as your competitors, you doom yourself to the same kind of mediocrity.

Why not take a risk that might just work?

Recent Posts
Showing 6 comments
  • Kristina McInerny

    Dan Kennedy’s books are great; read this one: No BS Marketing to Leading Edge Boomers
    and Seniors (I’m sure you already have Judy) and an older book to read up on the Boomer Gen and how they look at buying, read Dot Boom: Marketing to Baby Boomers Through Meaningful Online Engagement (I bought it locally from And Thou Shalt Read – I like to support local)

    • Judi Knight

      Good hearing from you Chris. Thanks for the info on the other books. I will dive in.

  • Diana Simon

    Judi, you hit the ball out of the stadium on this one for me. I want to purchase a mountain lodge retreat in NC. The emotion; going back to camp and bringing multi-generation family with me. I want the decor to be more rustic and focus on wilderness, not it’s current frilly B&B style. I’m the nostalgic boomer! Guess that is my market and I’m on the right track. I will now add the ’emotion’ component to the business plan I’m currently writing. And focus on nostalgia for the brand.

    • Judi Knight

      Wow, a mountain lodge sounds food. Would you run it or is it just a rental that you would manage? Either way, the nostalgia works.

  • Tom Tortorici

    Judi, thanks for the insightful and perceptive post. I hope everyone reads it twice.

    Completely agree that demographics alone can’t drive a good emotional appeal. Marketers sometimes objectify their audience as a set of statistics, without making any effort to simply put themselves in their shoes.

    It also doesn’t occur to most marketers to pay attention to their own internal ‘processes’ as consumers, and use those observations that as professional insight, as you have done.

    ​We are all emotional. We are also logical. I think each of us is a tangled bundle of contradictions, that we keep neatly tied together with our constant internal ‘talk’.

    So maybe “the competition” isn’t always other providers, but other aspects of that web visitor’s psyche…

    • Judi Knight

      Thanks Tom. Your comments as a copywriting expert are always appreciated.

Leave a Comment