Any successful marketing effort starts with the basic understanding of behavioral psychology of the target customer as it relates to decision-making. And in particular, as it relates to the decision to buy something.

The traditional consumer behavior model is as relevant today in the internet era, maybe even more relevant to a certain degree. Particularly when defining an optimal strategy to inject the right kinds of influence into a buyer’s behavior.

Stimulus

The buyer behavior model starts with a stimulus trigger. This trigger can be a thought or idea, a news story, or an image or internet meme. It’s simply a way to describe an external or internal force or event that serves to stimulate one or more senses.

For example, an internal stimulus might be a hunger pang in the stomach, which triggers the higher conscious behavioral thought processes to seek food.

An external stimulus comes from the environment. No matter the nature of the stimulus, it only becomes important if it manages to reach a minimum of one sense, and ultimately brings about a sensation.

For our purpose, the stimulus is targeted content designed to invoke some level of sensory attention. In the saturated marketplace of ideas, the content has to satisfy this basic requirement or it will be ignored.

A lot of marketing content (and nearly all B2B marketing content) fails at this fundamental level. People use the internet for two purposes:

  1. Entertainment
  2. Finding information about how to solve a problem

The traditional effort of producing promotional content to advertise a specific offer targets an individual late in the decision-making process. While this does satisfy the fundamental need to promote a behavior that results in an immediate transaction, smart marketing organizations will recognize the buying process at a deeper level. This allows the influencer to connect with the potential customer much earlier in the decision-making process itself – ideally positioning that influencer to be the recipient of the financial benefit of the purchase behavior.

This is where a successful content marketing effort will seek to establish a target persona, and then develop a systematic workflow to influence the purchasing behavior throughout the entire buying process.

Sensation

A successful stimulus becomes a sensation – or, in other words, a sensory impression. This is where the senses become aroused, which further becomes the foundation for perception.

Sensations are an involuntary phenomenon, and not under the conscious control of the individual – but under the control of the stimulus and it’s source

Most commonly understood in the retail brand marketing arena, consumer marketing specialists bombard the senses with stimuli designed to activate visual triggers.

A stroll down a grocery store aisle is a rich experience indeed. The barrage of stimuli cannot be stopped without closing your eyes to end the activation of the senses.

Attracting attention is the purpose of product packaging and placement. Whether or not a stimulus has the ability to actually stand out and attract attention is based on:

  • The amount of stimulation that’s present in a specific context
  • The individual’s ability to distinguish among other similar stimuli that’s present

These two elements are varied based on the environment within which the stimulus exists – for example, the crowded grocery store shelf. When the environment has fewer competing stimuli, it’s easier for any intentional stimulus to attract attention.

When designing content for a specific audience with the intent to create attention and influence, it’s important to consider the environment in which the stimulus could engage the individual. In the social media sphere, there’s a constant barrage of stimulus hitting the individual, who generally tunes out most of the feed.

Therefore, it’s important for content marketing professionals to produce “remarkable content” that becomes the online parallel to the grocery store shelf. Fortunately, the multimedia tools and publishing capability at the individual desktop level are now so ubiquitous, there’s little to no barrier for an individual to conceive an idea and produce compelling content. Not even a budgetary constraint as many free tools exist to provide the means for a “proof of concept”.

Need and Predisposition

The next stop in the buyer behavior model is need and predisposition. If a stimulus is successful in creating a sensation, the has to further elicit some response from a pre-existing need or predisposition on the individual’s part before it can rise to the level of creating perceptions… and ultimately triggering conscious, intentional behavior.

So what is a “need”?

I define this as some kind of inactive condition that exists within the individual that is ultimately expressed as active behavior when properly stimulated.

For example, this can be seen as the increased appetite as a response by someone who needs food.

Now there’s a big challenge.

Most of the time, needs are obscured. They can be dormant and vague. It becomes a hurdle for any marketer to awaken those needs, let alone focus a process towards desire or motivation.

In a future post, I will drill down on another layer of modeling that specifically maps out the needs and predispositions of an individual as it relates specifically to self-identity and lifestyle.

Perception

When a stimulus successfully passes through the individuals filters of need and predisposition, the result is perception.

Perception is the orderly interpretation of the sensations, and involves the higher conscious mental processing that relates all of the sensory input within an individual’s particular frame of reference or worldview. Therefore, perception will vary greatly from individual to individual because it is wholly subject to personality influences and other social factors. And this is why perception itself can result in a radical distortion of reality.

The way a person perceives your content will determine whether or not it’s accepted. In a transactional model, the way a person views your product or service (notwithstanding any defects that may genuinely exist), will determine whether or not that person ever buys from you.

Motives

Once a particular stimulus reaches perception, it can influence a motive. In literature, a character motivation is best understood as a state of tension that prompts the individual to action. This action is specifically intended to reduce or fully eliminate this internal emotional tension. These tensions can be manifested as want, desire, drive or some other urge.

For example, a woman may visit a beauty salon due to her internal tensions resulting from her concern about her physical appearance. She is programmed to want to look attractive and youthful, so she seeks to relieve that tension with a makeover.

But there’s a conflict for influencers. Rarely does an individual actually behave from a singular motive. Multiple motives, and even conflicting motives, can emerge to prompt a behavioral act – a purchase.

As an example, a more complex purchase is governed by many motives. When considering the purchase of a new car, a person may be driven by various motives of self-esteem, safety, economy, and comfort.

Because each individual is hardwired with different filters and attitudes those motives will be prioritized. It is this list of priorities that drives us to identify the various features of a car model when evaluating a purchase.

Successful influencers will seek to understand the motives of their target audience, as well as their priorities. This will enable the influencer to address and invoke the various motives with the appropriate stimuli.

This is the magical nexus where we, as influencers, want to elevate our content development and creation to the highest levels of effect. The cliché’ of “creating awesome content” is buried right here in this connection. Content designed to trigger and sway particular motives should ultimately be the goal on any content marketing initiative.

Buyer Behavior

Motivation results in a behavioral attempt to reduce or eliminate the tension. This is a goal-oriented effort, which can spawn activity in multiple directions:

1. The consumer may adopt your influence and buy something from you
2. The consumer may want more information and initiate an active search
3. The consumer may drop the matter and take no immediate action

Once the behavior has been manifested, the consumer looks for feedback in the process. Interestingly, the outcome of this comparison will influence future behavior and future purchases.

A positive experience will create satisfaction, which reinforces the emotional dynamic.

When reinforcement is repeated, habits are formed. These habits lead to continued adoption of influence, reliance and loyalty to a brand.
But a negative experience will result in a consumer diminishing the view of authority by the influencer, changing brands, avoiding an entire product category, etc…

Using the Buyer Behavior Model

The power of a model is that it’s highly adaptable to specific business situations. Individual aspects of a model can be substituted to meet special considerations and conditions.

The model can be applied to a very selective behavior – for example, wherein a choice is already made when a product is first considered. It can also be applied to repetitive behavior where successful purchases are repeated on a habitual basis. If the case is selective, the buyer is essentially expressing the motive of initial purchase decision-making.

While this model is called “Buyer Behavior Model”, it is adamantly not solely about business-to-consumer selling. Rather, it’s about how an individual internalizes some form of stimulus as part of decision-making behavior to make some kind of purchase.

In the business-to-business world, decisions are still made by individual humans within an organizational context. The individual is subject to the same internal behavioral model, whether acting as an independent person, or in their capacity as a resource or roll within an organization.

Therefore, in the case of a business buyer, the model can be used to analyze the behavior of an entire market segment. The model is just as relevant to decision-makers as a group as it is with individual consumers.

Are you using any kind of buyer behavior model approaches to defining your marketing strategy or guiding your marketing research?

 

Michael Hiles

GenX writer, speaker, mentor, C-level digital, & tech business guy. Sold my first website project in 1994. The rest is history. Serial entrepreneur. I work with lots of startups as managing director of Founder Institute Cincinnati. Bourbon, coffee, Legos, things that explode. Husband & daddy.

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