The $100,000 impulse purchase

Posted on Jan 13, 2016

All buying decisions are emotional.

“Even the ones made by meeeeeeeeeee?” “Yep.”Emotional purchase decision

All of them? The assertion deeply offends people, especially B2B marketers who believe in their own rational choices. They will concede that while they (artists, voters, teenagers, televangelists) are driven by emotions, we right-thinking folk (you, me, actuaries, rocket surgeons) are certainly not.

But the evidence is stacked the other way. Customers buy from people they like, and by extension, from brands they like. That uber-rational government purchasing officer who’s impressed that you shaved a penny off the price will, after you tell an offensive joke, decide that delivery time outweighs price, and the bid goes to your competitor.

Consider college choices, by reputation a considered purchase given the 6-figure price tag. No impulses permitted! A year, maybe two, of research to whittle 3000 schools to 25 to 10 to 3 seems like the most rational, careful make-a-list-with-check-marks kind of selection process. Ever so left-brained. But what happens next? College visits are planned, and the prospective student sets foot on Campus A. If it’s a positive experience with pleasant surroundings and attractive people, the odds are better than 70% that Colleges B and C will never even get visited. Emotional commitment made; search over.

What’s the takeaway for marketers? Your planning – whether you’re selling B2C, B2B, causes, candidates, law firms or philosophy – must not focus totally on content. Devote plenty of attention to making the campaign (ads or website or catalog or email or lecture or presentation or skywriting) likable, credible and unexpected. Being the first examined in the selection set is vastly more immediate than establishing differentiation, what we used to call creating a USP. Make the first experience of encountering the brand engaging (think: the atmosphere of the Apple Store, the front desk of the Ritz-Carlton, goofy announcements on Southwest Air, the speaker’s anecdote) to see how to sink the hook that begins to forge a bond.

Is this radically different from what we called Salesmanship 101? Yes, indeedy. But old-school sales (e.g., heavy repetition of the USP) is in a death spiral. The logic is clear on that.

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  1. Joseph Fischer
    December 22, 2010

    We just bought a used Honda from a Ford Dealership, because the saleswoman is a friend of a friend and we liked her.

    We didn’t want to go through the ordeal of interacting with other used car salesmen. We payed more than we had planned, just so the unpleasant car shopping process would be over!

  2. David Nute
    July 6, 2011

    I agree with the entire sentiment behind all of this. And 9 times out of 10, you probably will buy the product or service based upon an emotional decision. But before you get to that stage, those choices are going to be influenced by the advertising that will be a mixture of the emotional engagement you have with that brand and the rational – “UCB”, or unique customer benefit?

  3. Bryan Brodie
    January 26, 2016

    Hypnosis: that’s the key!

    Not to inject politics into an excellent Killian blog post, but the above link contains additional links to articles explaining how Trump has turned around perceptions by allowing others to overlay their expectations onto his persona.

    Find a way to do that for your brand, you’ll really be onto something!

    • bob
      January 26, 2016

      He’s a master of branding. He’s more than a snake oil salesman; he’s a clinic in how to fleece the rubes.

  4. Joseph Fischer
    February 11, 2016

    Rational research should have been part of purchasing that used Honda. It turns out, despite Honda’s reputation for reliability, that model year had problems with the transmission. I still drive it almost every day, with the rebuilt transmission.

    I took a close friend to the Honda dealer when she got fed up with her unreliable American car. And we bought another Honda for my wife last year.

    So my emotional connection with the Honda brand beats out rational research, and even personal experience!


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