Purchasing Motivators


Tim J. Smith, PhD
Founder and CEO, Wiglaf Pricing

Published November 10, 2004

What makes customers buy? Obviously, “need” acts as a strong purchasing motivator but “needs” are poor indicators of how purchasing desires are directed. To understand purchasing motivators, we must look beyond basic needs and examine underlying goals. Once they uncover these goals, clever marketers position their brand as able to fulfill the target market’s purchasing motivators.

Branding, as used in this article, refers to the set of beliefs that buyers hold about a company and its products or services, both the positive and negative. This definition of branding moves beyond that of names, logos and graphic identities. It treats identifiers as expressions of a brand, but not the full meaning of a brand.

Emotional Branding

In consumer markets, we have converted “needs” into “wants.” The need for clothing has been converted into a desire for Armani, Max Mara, and Ralph Lauren. The need for food has been converted into a desire for vegetarian cuisine, steaks, and restaurant chains. And, the need for shelter has been converted into a desire for mansions, town homes, and condominiums. In each of these cases, clever marketers position their brand to make an emotional appeal to consumers to direct “needs” into a specific “wants” for their product or service.

In converting “needs” into wants, consumer marketers use emotional branding. Emotional branding is personal; it appeals to the aspirations of individuals and also develops trust. In emotional branding, the brand definition extends beyond usage or consumption into the experience people have with the company and its products, including the dialogue that customers have with marketing. Missing from this list of issues for “emotional branding” is a discussion of quantifiable value that is delivered through a product or service.

Emotional branding presents a challenge in business markets. Few business products and services are associated with the word “cool”. Rarely will a business deliverable create an “experience” analogous to that created by Starbucks, Krispy Kreme, or American Girl Store through their smells, theatre, and interaction. Furthermore, appealing to aspiration identities such as “Hip-Hop”, “Soccer Mom”, or “Athlete” is sure to alienate potential business customers who would otherwise value the offering. As an alternative, business marketers find that basing their brand upon delivering business and financial value to customers is more effective than pure emotional branding.

In business markets, emotional appeals alone are insufficient for converting a purchasing motivator into a sale. Although emotional factors do influence business purchasing behavior, the expression of these purchasing motivators are shaped by the business’s ability to deliver strategic and financial value. As such, clever business marketers position their brand on delivering value. Branding on value delivery versus branding on emotional appeals requires a very different approach.

Strategic & Financial Value Branding

A brand that is defined by its ability to deliver business and financial value implies that the underlying deliverable creates more value for their customers than the competing alternatives. In manufacturing oriented markets, common brand positions that business marketers claim are based in delivering lower costs, higher revenues, improved quality, or decreased cycle time. Business marketers expand this list to include other business issues in their brand position when addressing other markets. Each of these issues directly addresses a strategic or financial concern of a business customer.

Being the low-cost supplier does not always imply that a company is able to deliver the greatest value. Low-cost suppliers often suffer from lower margins. With lower margins, low-cost suppliers are restricted in their ability to fund research and development for the next generation of products or long-term reductions in operating costs. Thus, they often suffer from an ever increasing squeeze on profits and, in the long run, an inability to deliver the value that their customers once sought from them.

An alternative source to being the low cost supplier is to understand the potential sources of value that customers can gain in their relationship with a company and exploit these by providing products and services through mutually profitable transactions. The strategic direction of the business customer and the manner in which financial value is evaluated delineate potential areas for branding a business product or service.

In branding on financial value delivered, leading-edge business marketers have begun to calculate their offering’s value captured by their customers. In the calculation, factors that differentiate the product or service from competing alternatives are quantified with respect to that specific customer’s strategic needs. These calculations of financial value delivered are created with numbers that reflect the specific customer’s situation and handed to the customer for review. Financial value calculations often form a key step in the sales process.

Business Marketers focus on Strategic and Financial Value Delivered

Rarely will consumer marketers need to quantify the value of selecting their offerings over a competitors, but business marketers must address this issue daily. In this respect, emotional branding may be the best approach to consumer marketing, but in business marketing, emotional branding plays a secondary role to branding based upon delivering strategic or financial value.

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About The Author

Tim J. Smith, PhD, is the founder and CEO of Wiglaf Pricing, an Adjunct Professor of Marketing and Economics at DePaul University, and the author of Pricing Done Right (Wiley 2016) and Pricing Strategy (Cengage 2012). At Wiglaf Pricing, Tim leads client engagements. Smith’s popular business book, Pricing Done Right: The Pricing Framework Proven Successful by the World’s Most Profitable Companies, was noted by Dennis Stone, CEO of Overhead Door Corp, as "Essential reading… While many books cover the concepts of pricing, Pricing Done Right goes the additional step of applying the concepts in the real world." Tim’s textbook, Pricing Strategy: Setting Price Levels, Managing Price Discounts, & Establishing Price Structures, has been described by independent reviewers as “the most comprehensive pricing strategy book” on the market. As well as serving as the Academic Advisor to the Professional Pricing Society’s Certified Pricing Professional program, Tim is a member of the American Marketing Association and American Physical Society. He holds a BS in Physics and Chemistry from Southern Methodist University, a BA in Mathematics from Southern Methodist University, a PhD in Physical Chemistry from the University of Chicago, and an MBA with high honors in Strategy and Marketing from the University of Chicago GSB.