Something I learned in school several (many?) years ago stuck with me. One of my professors said this: “A great marketing effort starts with this one simple question, ‘what do people want?’” He then went on to talk about the fact that goods and services are then developed to give people what they want.

That’s a pretty simple concept, but it’s only the beginning. Just because you build it, doesn’t mean they’ll buy. The art of marketing communications is about making your offering appealing to prospective customers. Sometimes things get tricky in that arena, unless you understand the “why.” Not your why, but theirs.

Think about the perspective of your customers. It’s not the same as yours. When you’re trying to cut through the noise and chaos of (way too much) information bombarding the senses, it will help you to keep this simple rule in mind. Your audience is asking this question, “what’s in it for me?”

Reverse the Lens

The sellers usually see things through their own perspective or “lens.” Don’t we all? If you have something to sell, I’ll be frank. Buyers don’t care about your perspective. They see through their own lens. That’s the one that matters.

Here’s the point: turn the lens around and start seeing (and communicating) based on your customer’s perspective, not yours. Figure out what they want and why they buy. If you find out why they buy from you in particular (instead of buying from your competitor) you’ll be step ahead.

How Do You Know What They Want?

In a word, ask. Get close enough to your customers to find out what they want. It’s not always about the product itself. It seldom is. Ask them in personal contacts and through surveys. Train your customer-facing staff to ask good questions.

“What are customers trying to accomplish? What problem are they trying to solve? What do they hope to gain for themselves?” These are all typical questions I ask clients. We want to understand the buying motivations of their audience. It’s about needs, wants and aspirations.

Is There a Framework?

Solving life and business problems is much easier when you have a framework of some kind. And yes, there is a framework to help us better understand the world of buying motivations. Truthfully, marketing professionals and organizations differ in the frameworks they use, but I’ll share one that will get you started.

Laura Lake talks about 5 major motivators and I have to say, she is on to something.  “Motivation consists of drives, urges, wishes, or desires that initiate an uncomfortable tension within the consumer that remains until the need is satisfied.” Laura defines the major motivators as Basic Needs, Convenience, Security/Safety, Self Image/Ego and Fun. Let me elaborate a little on each one.

Basic Needs: The is the survival stuff, like food, clothing, shelter and water. If a customer is only motivated to satisfy a basic need and nothing else, price will be a major consideration.

Convenience: This motivator relates to the desire to make something easier, or have someone else do it. Before I discovered the joy of wrinkle free shirts, I happily paid the dry cleaner to do that part of my laundry.

Security/Safety: Peace of mind is what’s behind this one. It’s why I have a fire extinguisher in addition to my smoke detector. It’s why people will pay more for a high quality car seat for their newborn.

Self-Image/Ego: This is simply about looking and feeling good. Sometimes it relates to the way we’re viewed by others, other times not. Logic takes a bit of a back seat to emotion on this one.

Fun: This, of course, is pretty self-explanatory. It relates to enjoyment and entertainment.

As I mentioned earlier, this framework is geared toward consumer purchases. It doesn’t fit all situations, but it serves as a starting point.

The basic idea is to reverse the lens and adopt your customer’s viewpoint. That, then, becomes part of a solid foundation for marketing communications. Learning how to understand the interests and buying motivations of your customers is a key step in taking your business to the next level.

Article written by

Steve Smart / Brand Strategist / Undefeated Boggle Player