Wednesday, March 4, 2015


by Emmanuel Kuehn

Consumers are the same all over the world!
You might disagree with this statement, and argue that a Chinese consumer is totally different from an English one. However, consumers are human beings, regardless of their country of origin. In fact, outside of skin colour, language, and culture, there is absolutely no difference when it comes to consumer behaviour.

Let's begin by defining what are the keystones involved in the purchase process: the brain (the rational aspect), the heart (the emotional aspect), and the wallet (the financial aspect).

The brain asks: "Do I need that product?"
The heart asks: "Do I like that product?"
The wallet asks: "Can I afford to pay for that product, and is it worth the money?"

Those 3 components can be displayed in a form of a triangle entitled, "The Buying Triangle". At the top of an isosceles triangle is the brain. At the base on the left is the "wallet", and on the right is situated the heart.

So why is the statement "consumers are the same all over the world", true?

Look closely. They all have a brain, a heart and a wallet, in some form. What differentiates one consumer from another is the way these 3 key elements - brain, heart & wallet - interact with each other. Despite the variations, all three elements are clearly in play during the decision to purchase any product or service.

Traditionally, the brain operates like a control panel constantly evaluating, assessing situations, and behaviour. The mind and brain have been designed for this function. Nonetheless, we could argue that by thinking too much, some people struggle to make a decision. The situation becomes more complicated when other elements such as emotions (heart) and finances (wallet) are involved in the evaluation process.

The marketing "gurus" who build advertising campaigns try to play and manipulate these key elements. What counts most for strategists is to trigger the emotional side of each consumer's response nature. So, if you find yourself liking something, don't be surprised to find that your brain is struggling to convince your heart not to buy the product.

Price is also a key factor in the "struggle" or purchase decision. The price point needs to be "right" to get the consumer to commit.

Consumer durables are one thing. Now what happens when we consider luxury goods?

Clearly, the emotional element plays a significant role in the decision to buy. The purchase decision is based on the delivered emotional perception and value of the product. Rationally, if you need to buy a car, one car is as good as another in theory. Providing that the car is operational, any car will take you from place to place. Now, let's throw caution to the wind. What about acquiring the new Aston Martin Vanquish?

Emotional Decisions

People shell out a bundle for a big car splurge when it appeals to their passions and emotions. Certain car manufacturers build and design these cars with exactly this purpose in mind. A car becomes more than a vehicle for transport. It morphs into a dream machine of mechanized form of fantasy.

Emotion, sex appeal, and status definitely influence these type of high-touch purchase decisions. Emotional decisions are also predicated on notions of self-worth, self-identity, and reward and recognition.

IT Toys, Gizmos, & Laptops

Apple is another good example of a successful marketing machine. They do not just sell cutting edge products with an innovative design. They are providing us with visual and tactile stimulation. What is this? Another set finely honed emotional responses. The marketing strategists for Apple know how to play our emotions. They also know the utility of their products and when the messages are properly conveyed, they are able to generate "must have" purchase responses.

Are Mac products worth the investment? I think they are and so do many others. I am always impressed by the way they turn "want and desire" into "need".

The Impact Of Credit

The banking sector is another example of how marketing can shape the way we decide on financial services. In the "old" days, people put their savings into a checking and savings account to pay their bills and keep their money safe.

Credit however, represents big profits for the banking industry and no more so than the use of credit and bankcards. "Plastic Money" gives us the illusion that the money is not real and makes us feel that we have the power to spend more than we have. Most people today, do not settle their payments with cash. Previously, you could picture someone with a wallet full of bank notes. With each purchase the notes shrink and you are filled with a sense of "loss". Credit cards give you a different sensation. It is easier to spend money because it has become more imaginary in your mind.

Let's be honest, if we had to buy only with our brain and a wallet, we probably would buy and consume a lot less. Ultimately, we do not need very much to live and survive. Human nature however is always looking to acquire what it does not possess. More is never enough, and so to fill this emotional gap, we look to buy and consume more.

Price Tag Positioning

In retail outlets the position of the price tag in either the sleeve or clipped inside the garment, makes the consumer look for the "price". Examine now the engaged action. You have held the item in your hands. You have caressed the cashmere, and in your mind, the jumper is now part of your collection. Mentally you have bought the item before actual payment has been made.

Were the price up front and visible, would you react the same way? Perhaps? Or perhaps you would be more reflective on your purchase decision.

The only products with price tags at the front are bargains. The price tag is now used as a trigger to invite people to buy without considering need. "Bargains" are usually strategically placed at the entrance, acting as a magnet. Think of your local supermarket. Product placement is driven to get people to react quickly without thought and consideration. Even children are targeted with the positioning of sweets in front of the cashier. Temptation has been built into the retail experience.

The Evolution In Consumer Behaviour

Historically since World War II, Western economies have experienced a tsunami of products. Durability was once a hallmark before planned obsolescence became part of the business model. Remember, business is in business to sell. This means every time something is new, it is portrayed as better, more efficient, or more glamorous. You can quickly appreciate the draw of the "emotional" nature and power of effective advertising and marketing.

What do we do?

As committed consumers we buy more and more

Market shares in Western Europe are saturated and hard to increase. The credit crunch has also dampened spending.

So emerging markets such as Eastern Europe, China and India are the new targets to pick up the slack. They represent massive potential economic growth. These "new" consumers wish to be like their Western counterparts in terms of style and status. Their emotional side is open to be triggered and it works! They are buying more and more. Increased revenues and DPI have made this possible.

In the West, we have been told that unlimited credit was fine until the recent crisis. Emotionally we liked this proposition. No wonder why we have come to a situation where people could not afford to reimburse their debts. Inherent wisdom tells us to put the triangle back into balance. Finding the "right" compromise is necessary for emotional and financial stability.

Next time you find yourself in the midst of a buying scenario, pay attention to the complex triangle process. The next time you hesitate buying something, think first before you react.

The challenge is even bigger when couples buy products together. Most of the time, the man and the woman are not tuned to the same frequency. The sales person has to be smart enough to stimulate the party who hesitates.

So who's going to be the winner the next time you buy something?

Your brain or your heart?

Or will you simply connect both to buy wisely?

About The Author

Emmanuel Kuehn is a Management Consultant, Leadership Coach & Trainer for both corporate organizations and individuals.

Emmanuel Kuehn is a certified mBIT Coach (

Business Is A Matter Of People
Emmanuel Kuehn | WisePoint B.V.