I’ve always been skeptical of claims that using any one technique or tactic will consistently result in superior marketing performance. Simple, “silver bullet” solutions for big, complex challenges are incredibly rare in the real world.
But, if there is one key to decoding the formula for effective marketing, it is the ability to understand how people make decisions and what drives human behavior.
Understanding what will cause a potential buyer to respond to your marketing messages and ultimately buy your product or service is a prerequisite for developing an effective marketing strategy and creating persuasive marketing messages and content.
When you can’t identify the factors that underlie human decision-making and behavior, it’s nearly impossible to design marketing programs that are consistently successful. It’s like trying to navigate by the stars on a cloudy night.
The good news is, you can use established principles of decision science to identify and better understand the mechanisms that drive your potential buyers’ decision-making and behavior.
The Critical Role of Buyer Goals
Recent advances in decision science have established that motivation is the primary driver behind all human behavior, including buying behavior.
The American Psychological Association defines motivation as, “a person’s willingness to exert physical or mental effort in pursuit of a goal or outcome.” Put another way, motivation is the willingness to take action to achieve a goal. The goal may be to solve a problem, satisfy a need, or get a particular “job” done.
As humans, we pursue a goal because we expect to receive a reward if the goal is achieved. Neuroscience has shown that the human brain has a “reward system,” which is a group of structures and neural pathways that are activated when our brain processes sensory inputs that signal a reward we value.
When our brain’s reward system is activated, we are motivated to pursue the goal that will enable us to reap the expected reward. And the more we value the expected reward, the more motivated we become to achieve the goal.
Our goals also largely dictate what we pay attention to. Research has shown that our brain automatically scans our environment for information that aligns with our goals. So, in essence, our brain causes us to pay attention to information that is closely related to our goals.
Lastly, goals can be explicit or implicit. Explicit goals are those we set and pursue at a conscious level. An implicit goal operates primarily at a subconscious level. These goals arise out of basic human physical, psychological, and social needs, things like safety, security, and autonomy. We are motivated to pursue implicit goals even when we aren’t consciously thinking about them.
Implications for Marketers
These principles of decision science have major implications for marketers. The most important lesson is that the ability of any marketing message to provoke a response from a potential buyer is determined by how closely the message aligns with the buyer’s goals. That degree of “fit” is what makes the message relevant to the buyer and what will prompt him or her to respond.
This means you need to identify what the goals of your potential buyers are and then craft messages that are linked to those goals. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done for two main reasons.
First, buyer goals are highly individualistic. They can differ even among buyers who have similar demographic attributes, work in similar types of businesses, and have similar job titles and functions. Therefore, even well-constructed buyer personas may not reveal what goals are most important for an individual buyer.
Second, the goals of a business buyer can and will change as the opportunities and challenges facing the buyer’s organization change. This means that a buyer who doesn’t respond to a particular marketing message today might well respond to the same message received a month from now.
The challenges presented by these two factors are always present, but they are more pronounced when you’re seeking to acquire new customers.
If you are properly nurturing your relationship with an existing customer, you should be well-positioned to understand what your customer’s high-priority opportunities and challenges are at any point in time. And that gives you greater insight into the goals your customer’s buyers are likely to have.
When you’re seeking to acquire new customers, the most effective strategy is to ensure that your marketing messages feature links to one or more of the implicit goals I discussed earlier. This approach has two main advantages.
First, implicit goals are universal because they arise out of fundamental psychological and social needs that all humans share. And second, implicit goals are durable; they don’t change much over time. Therefore, marketing messages linked to these goals will likely resonate with most of your buyers whenever they are used.
The bottom line is: If you want to achieve consistent marketing success, there’s no substitute for understanding your buyer’s goals.