As marketing people, we spend a good deal of our time trying to find the most appealing way to describe our value proposition. We develop strategies and tactics to exploit what we see as opportunities in the marketplace. We hone our messages to resonate with our customers and prospects. We target niches and sharpen our approaches even further. We focus on rational buying behavior and latent needs.
But we never really ask ourselves, at the most basic level, why do people buy stuff?
We all know about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: 1. Physical needs. 2. Safety. 3. Love/Belonging. 4. Esteem. 5. Self-actualization.
But is there a similar hierarchy that defines buying behavior? I think there is.
So if there are these four basic approaches to buying behavior, what does this mean for marketers?
On the consumer side, it is relatively easy to see where your products fit in a buying hierarchy. Off-the-rack fashion, for example, obviously fits in the “want” or “because someone else has it” category for the buying public. Haute couture, to continue with the fashion example, sells to the “conspicuous consumption” crowd, the people who let everyone know how successful they are by buying a gown whose cost could feed a family for a year.
But in the business-to-business marketplace, the lines get murkier.
Once you get past the business basics–a physical and/or virtual presence and the utilities to support them–the job for B2B marketers is to turn their products and services into a critical “want” and “because someone else has it” items. (Only in rare instances are business buys on the conspicuous consumption level–usually in decorating executive offices or in designing a new headquarters building.)
This is what makes B2B marketing so difficult. That is why marketing an innovation or answering a need that is not yet unmanageable is so arduous, and why so many start-ups fail in the attempt.
The problem is that we attack the marketing problem as if all buying is rational. It is not. Obviously, we have to frame our value proposition in rational terms. But we must go beyond that. We need to understand where our product is in a hierarchy of buying behavior and where we want it to be.
A customer’s purchase of our product/service will always be rational on one level; it will make his business more profitable or make managing it easier. Yet there are really very few things businesses must have to survive (although that number is growing). So our job is to describe our value proposition so that it takes the prospect further up his mental and psychological scale.
If he feels that he can live without our product or service, he will. On the other hand, if he feels he “wants” it, you stand a much better chance of closing the deal.
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