Four ways to understand your customers’ buying behavior

Consumer Involvement Theory Chart copy

Our visual aid for today…

Everyone would like to know what makes their customers tick. Me included. And there are umpteen theories floating around in marketing land that, on the low end, offer a point of view, and on the high end, actually provide you a working guideline.

I can’t get enough of these theories. Love them. And while purging some of my porky little files this week, I came across an old favorite called consumer involvement.

Consumer involvement is just another way for you to understand the behavior of your target audience… their thinking, feeling and energy when they’re looking to buy your product or service. It’s actually pretty insightful.

To demonstrate the theory, I put together the chart on this page, which basically explains the fundamentals.

But, what is theory (and a chart) without some practical, real-world advice? So, below, I’ve listed exactly what each quadrant of the chart means, what products/services they apply to, how you should market to that quadrant, and some examples of people who market really well in those spaces.




This is when a product is expensive, more complex or is an important/major purchase. Examples include choosing an insurance plan, deciding what back-up system to buy, upgrading your kitchen appliances and the like… more technical types of buys. B2B marketing often falls into this quadrant.

Here’s what you should do…

Think like an engineer! Spell out the features and benefits of your product very clearly. Your audience is treading cautiously, trying to compare facts, so give them the information they want through charts; longer, more detailed copy; reviews and testimonials; specs; plenty of technical illustrations and more.

A great example: Consumer Reports. People LOVE the scientific, unbiased information they get on everything from vacuums to life insurance plans. CR is also a master at presenting complex information—both on and offline.



Products that garner high emotional involvement tend to be more personal—for consumers, it could mean booking a much-needed, exotic vacation or buying an engagement ring. On the business side, it includes hiring people, advertising or the interior design of a new office space.

Here’s what you should do…

Visual and emotional appeals are the benevolent dictators of this quadrant. Your copy should be strong, heartfelt and human. Many marketers in this space use stories that showcase how the product or service changed someone’s life or enriched a business. Video is incredibly powerful for highly emotional products—complete with music to make the message particularly poignant. Strive to help your audience “experience” what you’re trying to sell.

A great example: Disney. It is the shiny happy virtuoso of pulling audiences in and getting them psyched about their vacation with the kiddies.



Many everyday purchases fall into this category… like the Dunkin Donuts coffee you enjoy on the way to work… or the over-the-counter brand you pick up without even thinking. These are habitual purchases, and like most proverbial habits, they’re tough for your customer to break.

Here’s what you should do…

You have to change those deeply embedded neuro patterns. Be generous with free trials, coupons, samples—anything to rattle that entrenched brain and get it to notice something else! Rewards work, too. Consider things like giveaways, sweepstakes and more. If those don’t work, it may be high time to refresh or even rebrand your product so it’s not invisible anymore.

A great example: Who knew something as trivial as disposable razors could be so… entertaining?



Here, think immediate gratification and impulse buys… candy in the check-out line… a gossipy rag… anything emotional or sensual in nature, but not lasting like higher emotional products. Imagine this quadrant as the consumer satisfying a little urge and moving on.

Here’s what you should do…

Turn on the eyeballs. Visual approaches are particularly effective here… think of a sexy, leggy bikini model on a magazine cover… images of luscious melted chocolate pouring over a cookie… backlit posters of hot, buttery popcorn at the movies. The visual needs to be hyper gorgeous. And the copy should be short and preferably reward driven. Point-of-purchase displays, floor stickers, shelf talkers and more will all nudge the sales needle in this quadrant.

A great example: The lottery (just about any state!). The colorful images… fun scratch-off themes… and the promise of finally getting the opulent life you deserve—who can resist?

Now, it’s important to remember that not every purchase plops right square in the middle of a quadrant. In fact, many purchase decisions are blended—you may be hovering in the low emotional involvement quadrant, with a heavy leaning toward the low rational side (like making an impulse candy purchase, but of an old favorite, like Snickers).

Another middle ground example? Healthcare. It tends to fall in midpoint between high rational involvement (are they specialists in this disease? What is their success rate?) and high emotional involvement (that’s my MOM you’re taking care of!).

No matter what marketing theory or method is hot at the moment, it’s tough to steer the marketing ship wrong if you truly know your audience. Empathy always rules.

– Andy Badalamenti is the creative director for CI-Group.

1 Comment
  • Adrian

    Thank you for the insightful information provided. I have subscribed to your website 🙂

    24 December, 2014 at 11:03 am

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