What makes your customers buy? Customer buying behaviour explained.

customer buying journey

What makes your customers buy? Customer buying behaviour explained.


Your business is like an attentive host at a global gathering. Each guest has unique preferences and needs. Your role? To understand and cater to these diverse requirements, turning casual visitors into loyal patrons. Grasping why customers pick your product or service is akin to unlocking a secret formula. It empowers you to craft marketing and sales strategies that resonate deeply with your audience, propelling your sales forward with precision and effectiveness.

At its core, understanding customer motivation is about tapping into the ‘why’ behind every purchase. It’s a complex blend of psychological, social, and personal factors. Businesses that master this understanding can anticipate needs and innovate in ways that resonate deeply with their target market. Think about it, without Apple’s understanding of its customers’ desire for sleek, user-friendly technology, its products may not have been the runaway global successes they are.

So, how can you apply the psychology of buyer motivations to boost your business success? Let’s explore your options in more detail.


The importance of decoding customer buying motivations.

It’s somewhat like being a savvy conversationalist at a networking event. You wouldn’t engage in a one-size-fits-all dialogue; instead, you’d tailor your conversation to the interests and needs of your counterpart. Understanding the underlying motivations of your customers equips you to develop marketing campaigns that hit the mark. It’s about differentiating your brand in a saturated market by offering value that aligns perfectly with your customers’ specific desires and needs.

Be a detective for your brand. Look for clues in customer feedback, market trends, and even the subtleties of consumer behaviour and customer buying patterns. This understanding can shape everything from product development to marketing strategies. Real-world example: Netflix’s recommendation algorithm demonstrates its deep understanding of the customer’s desire for personalised entertainment experiences.

Psychology’s role in consumer behaviour.

Here’s where things take an intriguing turn. Human psychology, with all its complexities, plays a pivotal role in consumer behaviour. Elements such as motivation, perception, and attitudes are the driving forces behind buying decisions. For instance, tapping into emotional needs can significantly alter consumer behaviour. It’s akin to understanding why a customer chooses a product—not just for its functional value but for the emotional fulfilment it offers.

Beyond basic needs, psychological factors such as Maslow’s hierarchy influence purchasing decisions. For those unfamiliar with the concept, Abraham Maslow proposed this psychological theory in 1943, and it’s often depicted as a pyramid divided into five different levels. Each level represents a set of needs that humans are motivated to fulfil, starting from the most basic to more complex and psychological needs. 

Maslow and customer buying journey


Here’s a brief breakdown of each level:

1. Physiological needs: At the base of the pyramid are physiological needs. These are the absolute basics for human survival, such as food, water, shelter, and sleep. In business and marketing, products or services that cater to these needs are seen as essential. For instance, a grocery store or housing service meets these fundamental needs.

2. Safety needs: The next level up is about safety and security. Once our basic needs are met, we look for stability and protection in our lives. This includes personal security, employment, health, and property. In business, products or services that promise safety and reliability appeal to this level. For example, insurance companies and home security systems target these needs.

3. Social needs: Moving further up the pyramid, we find social needs. These are related to our sense of belonging and acceptance in society. Humans are social creatures, and we seek emotional relationships like friendships, romantic attachments, and families. Businesses that create a sense of community or sell products that enhance social interactions, like social media platforms or cafes, tap into these needs.

4. Esteem needs: These needs are about respect, self-esteem, and recognition. Once the first three levels are satisfied, individuals often seek appreciation and recognition from their peers. This level includes the need for things like prestige and status. Luxury brands and high-end services often market to this level, offering products that symbolise success and garner respect. They offer more than just a product—they offer a status symbol. 

5. Self-actualisation needs: At the top of the pyramid is self-actualisation. This is about achieving one’s full potential and engaging in activities that fulfill personal growth and self-fulfillment. It’s not about what others expect from us, but about realizing our own ambitions and creative abilities. Products and services that promote personal development, creativity, and self-expression cater to these needs. Examples include education services, artistic tools, or self-help workshops.

In marketing and business, understanding where your product or service fits into Maslow’s hierarchy can help you communicate more effectively with your audience. For example, a marketing campaign for a luxury car might focus on esteem needs by highlighting the prestige and status that comes with owning the car. An ad for a health supplement might focus on physiological and safety needs by emphasising how it helps maintain health and well-being.

By aligning your product’s benefits with the appropriate level of Maslow’s hierarchy, you can create more resonant and compelling marketing messages that speak directly to the core needs and desires of your customers.


How cognitive dissonance affects consumer buying behaviour.

And let’s not forget that the concept of cognitive dissonance plays a vital role in how customers perceive their purchases and brand loyalty. 

Cognitive dissonance is a psychological theory first introduced by Leon Festinger in 1957. It refers to the discomfort or mental conflict a person experiences when they hold two or more contradictory beliefs, attitudes, or values at the same time, or when their actions contradict their beliefs. In consumer behaviour, cognitive dissonance often occurs after making a purchase, especially in cases of expensive, high-stakes, or emotionally significant decisions.

1. Post-purchase rationalisation: 

After purchasing a product or service, especially if the decision was difficult or the options were closely matched, consumers might experience doubts or regret. They might wonder if they made the right choice or if another option would have been better. To ease this discomfort, they often look for reassurance that their decision was correct. This can include seeking positive reviews of the product they chose or downplaying the advantages of the options they didn’t choose.

2. Impact on brand loyalty: 

Cognitive dissonance can have a significant impact on brand loyalty. When customers feel satisfied and assured in their purchase decisions, they are more likely to become loyal to the brand. On the flip side, if the post-purchase experience leads to increased dissonance, they might develop negative feelings towards the brand. For example, if a customer buys a car from a brand known for reliability but then faces frequent breakdowns, the conflict between their expectation and reality might lead to a loss of trust in the brand.

3. Marketing strategies to reduce dissonance: 

Marketers can implement strategies to reduce cognitive dissonance in customers. This includes offering reassurance after the purchase through follow-up emails, guarantees, warranties, and customer testimonials. A great example is how Apple provides an extensive support system and community forums for its customers, offering reassurance and support after the purchase of their products.

4. Consistent brand messaging: 

Maintaining consistent and transparent brand messaging can help prevent cognitive dissonance. If customers have clear and realistic expectations about a product or service, they are less likely to experience dissonance post-purchase. This consistency should span across all marketing channels and customer service touchpoints.

5. Customer education and engagement: 

Providing customers with thorough information about the product, its use, and its benefits can also minimize dissonance. Engaging with customers through social media, blogs, or newsletters keeps them informed and connected to the brand, reinforcing their purchase decision.

6. Listening to customer feedback:

Paying attention to customer feedback and addressing concerns or complaints promptly can reduce dissonance. When customers feel heard and see their feedback leading to improvements, their trust in the brand is strengthened, mitigating any negative feelings that might arise from cognitive dissonance.

Cognitive dissonance is a crucial factor in understanding consumer behaviour, especially post-purchase. Brands that successfully address and reduce cognitive dissonance can enhance customer satisfaction, foster brand loyalty and build a strong, positive relationship with their customers. This involves thoughtful engagement, consistent messaging and a focus on providing reassurance and support throughout the customer journey.

The customer buying journey.

  1. Recognising the need: It all starts with the consumer realising a gap—a need or a want. This stage is about awakening the awareness that something is missing, much like the moment one realises they need a better solution to a problem.
  2. Information search: Here, the consumer embarks on a quest for information, exploring various avenues to find the best solution. This stage is crucial, as it’s where businesses can make a strong impression with easily accessible, compelling information.
  3. Evaluation of alternatives: Consumers weigh their options, comparing features, benefits, and prices. It’s a stage of careful consideration, where the unique value proposition of each option is scrutinised.
  4. Purchase decision: The critical moment of action where the choice is made. This stage is the culmination of all the preceding steps, turning contemplation into action.
  5. Post-purchase evaluation: The consumer reflects on their decision, evaluating the product or service against their expectations. Satisfaction or dissatisfaction at this stage influences future buying decisions and brand loyalty.

Enhancing customer experience.

After two decades in marketing, where the only constant is change, I’ve observed firsthand the monumental shift in how businesses approach customer experience (CX). In the early days, customer experience was often a secondary consideration, overshadowed by product features or pricing strategies. But today, it’s at the forefront of every successful brand’s strategy. Why? Because in a marketplace where products and services are increasingly commoditised, the real differentiator is the experience a customer has with your brand. It’s not just about meeting needs; it’s about creating memorable, engaging interactions that resonate on a personal level.

Enhancing your customer experience is more than just a tactical approach—it’s a philosophical shift. It requires an empathetic understanding of the customer’s journey, an anticipatory approach to their needs, and a commitment to continual evolution and personalisation. As we delve into expanding the approach to enhancing CX, it’s crucial to think beyond the conventional. We need to reimagine every touchpoint as an opportunity to delight and surprise our customers.

A positive customer experience is the cornerstone of brand loyalty and repeat business. It’s about creating an environment that’s as welcoming and reassuring as a trusted friend’s advice. Here’s how to enhance it:

Expanding your approach.

1. Understand expectations: To truly grasp customer expectations, we must go beyond standard surveys and listening tools. It’s about immersing ourselves in the customer’s world. This involves ethnographic research, where we observe customers in their natural environment to understand their challenges and motivations. It’s about building a narrative around the customer, not just collecting data points.

2. Exceptional service: Today exceptional service is more than just being polite and helpful. It’s about creating ‘wow’ moments that are shareable and memorable. Think of service as a story your customers will tell. Training in empathy and problem-solving is essential, but so is empowering staff to create unique, personalised experiences. Imagine a hotel where the staff not only knows your name but also your preferences from previous stays and uses this to surprise you with a custom experience.

3. Leverage technology: Your focus should be on creating seamless, intuitive experiences. AI and machine learning are potent tools, but their true power lies in their ability to anticipate needs and solve problems before the customer even perceives them. Imagine a shopping app that doesn’t just recommend products based on past purchases but predicts what you need based on your calendar, weather, and recent lifestyle changes.

4. Value feedback: Feedback is a goldmine of insights, but it’s underutilized if only used to gauge satisfaction. Real value comes from integrating feedback into a continuous improvement loop. This means not just collecting feedback but also acting on it in visible ways and communicating these changes back to customers, thus creating a dialogue of trust and involvement.

5. Personalisation: True personalisation is about creating individualised experiences at scale. It’s more than just addressing a customer by their name or recommending products based on past purchases. It’s about tailoring the entire experience to their unique preferences, behaviours, and even mood at the moment. Think of a fitness app that adapts its workout recommendations not just based on your progress, but also based on how you’re feeling that day.

Enhancing the customer experience in today’s world requires out-of-the-box thinking and a deep understanding of human behavior and technology. It’s about creating a symphony of personalized, empathetic, and anticipatory interactions that make the customer feel valued and understood. The future of CX lies in our ability to not just meet but anticipate customer needs, to not just solve problems but to create delight, and to not just collect feedback but to engage in an ongoing conversation. Your guiding principle should be clear: every interaction is an opportunity to leave a lasting impression, to tell a story, and to build a relationship that transcends the transactional. This is the new battleground for differentiation, and it’s where the most successful brands of the future will thrive.


More insights for a holistic understanding of customer buying behaviour.


customer buying journey

Culture influences customer buying behaviour. 

Understanding how cultural backgrounds influence buying decisions is crucial. Brands like McDonald’s adapt their menu and marketing strategies in different countries to cater to local tastes and cultural norms.

The impact of social media. 

Social media platforms have become a significant factor in shaping consumer opinions and decisions. Influencer marketing, for example, leverages the trust and credibility of individuals to sway purchasing decisions.

Sustainability and ethical consumption. 

There’s a growing trend towards environmentally friendly and ethically produced products. Companies that recognize and align with these values, like TOMS Shoes with its one-for-one model, can build a strong, loyal customer base.

The role emotions play in decision-making. 

Emotions play a crucial role in buying decisions. Marketing campaigns that evoke emotions like nostalgia or happiness can be highly effective. Coca-Cola’s “Share a Coke” campaign is an excellent example of emotional marketing.

Customer journey mapping.

Creating detailed customer journey maps can help businesses identify touchpoints where they can enhance the customer experience. This tool allows for a more nuanced understanding of the customer journey.



Understanding and responding to customer motivations isn’t just a strategy—it’s a necessity. From the psychological underpinnings of consumer behaviour to the nuances of the buying journey, you need to adopt a multifaceted approach. By enhancing the customer experience at every touchpoint and embracing the complexities of consumer behaviour, brands can foster loyalty, achieve greater customer satisfaction, and ultimately, drive long-term success. Remember, at the heart of every successful business is a deep understanding of its customers. It’s about seeing your customers as the central characters in your brand narrative and crafting every chapter of their journey with care and insight.

Key takeaways:

  • 1. Customer buying motivations are multifaceted and influenced by psychological, social, and personal factors.
  • 2. The customer buying journey consists of distinct stages, each requiring a tailored approach.
  • 3. Exceptional customer experience is the cornerstone of customer loyalty and business success.
  • 4. Embracing cultural, emotional, and ethical dimensions can enrich customer understanding and engagement.

By weaving these elements into your business narrative, you create a tapestry that is not only vibrant and engaging but also deeply connected to the needs and desires of your customers.


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