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Three things you need to know about your customers that you probably don’t ask

Traditional market research doesn't do enough - because attributes, preferences, and behaviors only tell part of the consumer story. To really know which consumers are worth targeting, you need to profile them using psychosocial attributes that directly impact their purchase decision-making. For example, how stable their preferences are, how much regret they anticipate, and how much they care about expressing themselves through their purchases are all relevant in identifying your ideal customers. Without a Decision Science approach, your consumer targeting could be off target.

The first step in getting someone to do what you want is talking to the right “someone.” Sell burgers to meat eaters. Share heavy metal music with heavy metal lovers. Encourage football fans to watch football. Don’t waste your time on the wrong people.

This is why much of traditional market research focuses on figuring out what purchase decision-makers think, feel, and do. If you find people who possess attitudes, opinions, preferences, and behaviors that align with what you’re selling, you’ll have an easier time doing the selling.

It’s straightforward. But it’s not enough.

What traditional market research doesn’t do, and what a Decision Science approach to consumer insights does, is also consider the psychological and social influences on purchase decision-making that happen under the radar, influences that can make even the most avid fans of what you’re selling reluctant to buy.

Here are three of these influences, and why they matter.

1. Preference stability. Preferences aren’t static: what you like today may not be what you like next year. But also, your preferences for some things may be more stable than for others; your taste in ice cream might change every summer but your taste in music might not. And the preferences of your spouse, friend, or parent could be more or less stable than yours. For instance, when my dad goes out to eat, it’s pretty much always at the same restaurant, and it has been for years. Me? I have my favorite spots, but I also love trying new places. If you’re trying to get people to abandon their brand for yours (like switch from one potato chip brand to another), or to shake off existing behavior so they engage with your product (like convincing them to spin less and weight train more), you might do better targeting people with preferences that aren’t super stable. Or, if brand loyalty is what you’re after, then customers with stable preferences are the ones to please most. 2. Anticipated regret. Some people who love what you’re selling will jump in and buy. Others will be reluctant. They might really like your product or service but abandon their online cart before entering their credit card information. They’ll review their contract but never sign it. They’ll shop around but never follow through with a purchase. One reason for this kind of hesitance is anticipated regret: they worry that if they go through with a purchase, and it doesn’t work out, they’ll feel crappy. So they put it off. Regret is a powerful negative emotion that most of us prefer to minimize, but some of us carry more anticipated regret than others. For example, a steady stream of previous bad purchase decisions, each leading to regret, will make someone less likely to try again – and some people have more regret in their history than others. If you don’t profile your consumers by their tendency for anticipated regret, you could waste time selling to folks that love what you’ve got but are more comfortable putting off making a choice. 3. Expressive utility. Sometimes we buy things because we want or need them, and they come at a good price. But other times we decide to buy because of what having a particular product or service means about who we are or want to be. Fashion brands rely on this: Chanel can get away with pricing a pair of sunglasses at $440 because of what many people believe it means to wear Chanel. People are different when it comes to how much expressive utility matters to them. For example, some people will always buy a car with great gas mileage, the highest safety rating, the right amount of space, and the best price. But others prefer cars that signal to the world that they’re hip, young, rich, or whatever it is they want to be. If you don’t know how much your target consumers lean toward expressive utility, you won’t know whether to message the functional or the expressive benefits of your product or service.

Bottom Line

When the success of your business comes down to influencing purchase decision-making, you need to know more about your target customers than just what they like or do. You need to learn about your target customers in terms of attributes that directly impact their decision-making.

The three decision influences described here are a small part of the whole story. Reach out to us to learn more about how a Decision Science approach can level up your business strategy and how Decision Science-centered insights can be directly actionable to your product, marketing, and sales plans.


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