How needs and motivations affect our consuming behavior

I consider myself a rational consumer, who considers her budget, her actual needs and desires before making a purchase. Except for when I’m hungry. I buy the first delicious eatable thing I see in a shop. When taking this thinking further, I realize I would still never ever buy a fur jacket no matter how cold I was. I wonder why.

Needs and motivations affect everybody’s consuming behavior. We tend to buy things if or when we need or want them. There are several things that make us want things, but let’s think about needs first. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs shows our needs in a triangle, where the lowest category is assumedly primary. Only when our primary needs are fulfilled, we continue to the next one. Physiological needs are on the bottom, as things that we fulfill first. Next two up are safety and love/belonging, then self-esteem and on the very top is self-actualization. Say I wanted a car. I wouldn’t even think about having one if my basic needs, such as hunger and need of belonging, weren’t already fulfilled. Even though most of my needs were fulfilled, my self-actualization would question whether I actually need a car, since the public transport works well for me, cars pollute more and are pretty expensive. Not everyone works in the same way though. Some of us might put self-actualization before other needs. Many artists, as Van Gogh, have starved themselves or lived their lives with poor social contacts to create art.

van gogh                                

Now that we understand needs, I’d like to establish what motivation is: it’s how we fulfill our needs. Say I’m hungry. I have multiple ways of getting the hunger to vanish. I can quickly buy a hamburger from the McDonald’s nearby or go to the closest grocery store further away and fix a healthy dinner at home. If my motivation is to live healthy, a little walk won’t stop me from walking further to shop groceries. If, on the other hand, I’m too hungry to wait for dinner to cook, or I’m in a hurry to go somewhere, the burger won’t sound like such a bad idea. This is when cognitive dissonance happens. It means I want to act in a certain way, but the other way sounds way better at the time. There are two ways of getting rid of cognitive dissonance. Either make up a pretty excuse not to feel bad about the worse decision, or stick to your beliefs. I bet everyone who reads this can relate!

cognitive dissonanceburger

To succeed, businesses have to understand their customers. To market a product it’s good to know know why the existing customer wanted it, and more importantly, what makes the new customers buy it. Businesses can make studies about customer behavior, and studies that have already been made can be used to understand customer wants and needs. For example some studies have shown that grocery stores that smell like fresh bread sell more fresh bread. Hungry customers can’t simply walk past the bread section without smelling that delicious fresh bread and buying it more likely than they would in a store without the smell. Or simply when you see an ad of a chocolate, you start craving for it.


What’s especially important, is to create new needs that customers haven’t even realized they have yet. For example smartphones. Nobody really need one, but when the marketing showed how much easier your life becomes with one, nobody could resist! That’s marketing well done.

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2 Responses to How needs and motivations affect our consuming behavior

  1. pauliinaluukkainen says:

    I totally agree with your thoughts about people buying things if or when we need or want them, and the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs explains it well. I also wouldn’t by a car or anything similar to that if my basic needs had not been fulfilled. I think it also depends of your lifestyle and values what do you buy. Do you prefer more healthy lifestyle or the burger instead. And thats when the companies has to find the right target group who will buy their product.

  2. yanagergalo says:

    Really love your post!

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