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Understanding the Psychology of your customer

Why do they buy from you? Customers rarely buy your 'thing' for its own sake. There's something deeper at play.

I used to tell people that professional photos are not one of life’s necessities and that’s why marketing for professional photographers is so difficult. By that logic, marketing for almost everything else would also be difficult, unless it’s for a necessity like toilet rolls. All jokes about the current loo paper shortage aside, that is essentially how I felt about marketing my work in the past when I did not know what I know now.

I’ve been having a lot of conversations with clients and others in my email list lately. The general challenge they share with me is:

“I don’t know what to offer so that I can sell (lots)”.

Let’s start from the end of that sentence looking at why we buy. When we buy something of significance, we often compare a few different options. Why did you buy one over the other? We have a story running in our head justifying our decisions after our emotion calls the shot way before. This happens unconsciously.

When we buy a household necessity, our emotion doesn’t tend to exert too much of its muscle unless you’re really agonising over which brand to buy.
But anything else, it’s all emotion.

For example, you’re an illustrator and you want to make your living as an artist. Why am I buying a piece of artwork directly from you rather than getting it more cheaply from a big-box store or gift shop? But you might be thinking that people buy your work because it’s ‘cute’ or ‘pretty’. But the stuff I buy at a huge store is pretty and cute as well. Think about that one while I give you…

Another example, I signed up to attend drawing classes recently. The artist who is teaching is someone I follow on Instagram. Why am I taking his classes? Because I want to become like him? No way. It’s because of how it would make me feel. It’s nostalgia. I can re-experience something that I used to do 25 years ago. It’s not about what I would learn or not learn. It’s about how it would make me feel. And there’s also the feeling of affiliation. His work is obviously amazing (to my eyes) but that is not the point. I’m getting to know him a little more than those people who may simply follow him (on IG) but who don’t attend his classes. So I feel a little bit special.

If we go back to the illustrator example above, let’s say I’m going to buy a drawing from you ‘the illustrator’. That’s because I like to collect artwork and hang them around the house. I appreciate the ‘art’ and that means I like the feeling of being a ‘patron’. I’m not merely buying an illustration from you. I’m paying for the feeling of being a ‘patron’. What price could you place on that? This depends on your target audience. I would easily spend a whack of cash on original artwork. And as my income increases, I’ll commission paintings so that I get to own something that other people cannot buy. What’s happening here? I don’t need commissioned artwork to breathe! It’s not a necessity. Could you tell me what emotion I’m craving in this instance?

The same thing turned out to be true with my work. Only when I started seeing what I was really ‘selling’ (obviously not photographs – I hope you see that now), and for whom, I was able to double my revenue.

The question, then, needs to be rephrased.

What emotion are they feeling when they buy my stuff?

The answer to the question depends on who you want to serve. People come first before your products/services. As my teacher, Seth Godin reminds us, choose your people and choose your future.

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