Why do people buy things?

Why do people buy things?

The psychology of buying / selling is an interesting one to dive into. I love learning about this stuff and chances are you will too. If you have an idea of what makes people tick you can write in a way that moves them closer to buying.

And that’s a big part of copywriting folks!

I’ve ordered so much stuff during lockdown that I’ve created a note just to keep a check of what’s arrived and what hasn’t. I’m sad I know.

I’d love to tell you they were all ‘essential’ items but we both know that’s not true. So why did I buy them? Let’s take a look:

People buy things for one of two reasons – to make them feel good (pleasure) or to move away from pain. 

Let’s say you’re about to go to your best friend’s hen party. You’re meeting the other hens at the train station and you don’t want to arrive empty handed so you pop into the M&S food shop on your way to the platform. There’s a bottle of Prosecco for £7 or there’s a snazzy pink bottle for £20 and you think ” sod it, Hannah’s only getting married once ” and grab the glam pink one. Not only will it taste better (it will won’t it?) you’ll look good in front of the other hens who you don’t really know. 

You have THE BEST time and feel like you’ve made loads of new mates. The hen, your bestie, even kept the cork from your bottle because it was the first one you all opened on the train (it was such a pretty bottle after all). The only problem is you’ve woken up this morning with the hangover from hell. 

In your haste to pack after work and meet the girls on time, you forgot paracetamol. On the way to the station you spot a corner shop and find some really overpriced paracetamol. You pay up because there’s no way you’re sitting on a train with a banging headache for three hours.

Can you spot when you’re buying for pleasure and buying for pain? You bought the expensive Prosecco for the pleasure of feeling glam AF and making your friend feel special. Then you bought some overpriced paracetamol to avoid the pain of a headache all the way home.

Here’s some more examples: 

A child’s car seat – pain

Chocolate buttons – pleasure

A face mask – pleasure of relaxing / pain of avoiding bad skin

A book about how to make £1 million in a day – pain 

A weekend away – pleasure

You’ll see from the list that on rare occasions both pleasure and pain might be evoked by the same thing. If this happens pick which you think has the most powerful pull for your customer and run with it.

If your copy (usually your headline to draw people in) can hint at pleasure or relieve pain you’re onto a winner. Take a look at the heading for my free copy guide I’m giving away at the moment:

5 Writing Tips Your Business Can’t Afford To Miss

It plays into your fear (pain) that your business will miss out on a way to make money if you don’t read it. 

Is it a bit naughty of me? Not at all. The advice in the guide does actually help people write better copy (and hopefully sell more as a result). All I’ve done is write a headline that will encourage people to download it and not miss out. 

When people use this technique and don’t deliver it’s a problem. That’s why those people who say ” Make £1 million in 2 weeks ” wind me up so much. It’s not true but they’ve played on your fear.

Let’s move on…

You might have guessed already that people are complex creatures and won’t buy something solely based on pleasure or pain. 

They buy based on emotion.

If you want to get people interested in buying something from you, you need to make them feel something.

There are six primary emotions:

1. Happiness – You’re going to love…

2. Sadness – I know how it feels to not want to get out of bed in the morning

3. Disgust – Imagine living in filth and not being able to put a fresh nappy on your baby

4. Anger – Forests are disappearing at an alarming rate

5. Fear – Last chance! This offer will be gone at the end of the week

6. Surprise – How to look 10 years younger without spending a penny!

Let’s say I want to have my hair done. I’m going because I want the pleasure of chatting to my hairdresser (Hi Billie!) and feeling like a total babe when I leave and catch a glimpse of myself in a shop window. Don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about…

Anyway, if you want to tap into someone’s emotions you need to write like you speak. The primal bit of our brain needs sentences with a clear meaning to be able to take in what we’re saying. It’s the reason we often have to read wordy, boring bits of text over again – it doesn’t stick in our brain because it’s too complicated. 

Once you’ve decided if the product or service you’re selling evokes pleasure or removes pain, you need to ask yourself what emotions you can draw on to create interest and – hopefully – get people to take action. Look at past testimonials or reviews and see what words people use to describe your offering, then use this in your marketing. 

If you don’t have any reviews, ask people what they think about your product / service and use what they tell you. Then make sure you start asking for reviews because they are a jewel in your copy crown and…

People buy stuff because other people have

The fancy term is social proof. 

People are 93% more likely to buy something based on reviews. That’s A LOT of people who rely on the opinions of others to make buying decisions. It plays to our innate need to follow the herd (you’d die as a cave person if you didn’t), and it’s why we like to buy from people and businesses we trust.

Now you’ve seen how emotions influence sales, you’ll be pleased to know there’s still a place for cold hard facts.

People justify their purchases with logic. Make sure you talk about facts to seal the deal.

A fact is usually the boring bit. Let’s take a look at a car:

– It gets really good miles to the gallon.

– It’s the safest car on the market and has the least number of collisions.

– It’s a hybrid so it’s good for the environment and will save you money on insurance.  

Try to think what people would tell their friends and family to justify buying something.

I’m going to jump back to my hairdresser example. I told you earlier what my emotional reason is for getting my hair done but what I tell my husband – each time I come back he’s adamant that nothing has changed – is that she’s expensive because she has YEARS of experience and has worked in London, Milan and now Sheffield. I then tell him we’re actually saving money because if I went to someone cheaper, I’d only need to go back to her to get my hair faux pas sorted out – this happened back in 2015 after an unfortunate incident with a balayage. But I don’t want to talk about it. 

To sum up ask yourself:

1. Does it move the customer closer to pleasure or away from pain?

2. Which emotion is my customer most likely to feel when using my product or service?

3. Do I have any reviews to back up what I’m saying?

4. What are the main facts (features) of my product or service? How would I justify it to my friends and family?

If you love a bit of homework, try this: next time you go to buy something think about the emotions it stirs up for you, and listen to the reason you give your family for buying it. You’ll soon see what I’m talking about.


Photo by Christiann Koepke on Unsplash

Ashley is a copywriter + digital content strategist. She's also a firm believer that the best way to eat a scone is jam before cream. She helps creatives, entrepreneurs and brands get paid to be their fabulous selves. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @_ashleyhoyland.

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