Seven things which drive us to purchase

The pleasure and pain principle is a theory that humans are driven primarily by a desire to avoid pain and obtain pleasure. If this is true, all our purchase decisions would be hinged on either giving some advantage in obtaining pleasure or alleviating pains. At the very least, we can definitively say that we buy products to solve problems: whether it be a refrigerator to prolong our food or luxury cuff-links to improve our image and esteem.

The benefits we receive can thus be separated into wants and needs: products which serve a basic necessity as well as products which provide an unnecessary but desirable benefit. If we wanted to further break this down, we could refer to a famous model developed by Abraham Maslow in 1943: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This model groups needs into five levels. This is shown below with the highest level first, and the most basic level last.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

1. Self-Actualization

2. Esteem

3. Love & Belonging

4. Safety

5. Physiological

Essentially, what is important to us starts from the bottom. As our physiological needs such as food, water, and shelter get satisfied, we move up the ranks. We then look for safety and security, then love & belonging, then esteem goods (watches, nice cars, houses), before needing self-actualization (climbing mount everest, achieving an award or recognition in our field, etc.)

While this model is very useful in segmentation, targetting, positioning, and product design- breaking benefits down another way is more useful in understanding the value formula. This other way focuses not on the consumer, but on the intrinsic benefits the product provides. Instead of what they would want, this method distinguishes seven considerations of the product. This is listed below in no particular order.


  • Financial
  • Functional
  • Relationship
  • Emotional
  • Social
  • Novelty
  • Rarity

A financial benefit is one which would improve or maintain the financial standing of the user. Common financial products include stocks and insurance. In this case, a financial benefit does not need to be immediate. One could argue that paying for insurance is not worth it if accidents do not occur, but the financial benefit in this case is the assurance that your finances will be in order in the future. While a piggy-bank may cost you a few dollars now, it saves your loose change to provide a financial benefit.

A functional benefit is one you can utilise. These pertain to products you use to achieve something physical. This sort of benefit is easiest to identify: a wrench provides the ability to tighten bolts, while a water bottle allows you to store and drink water. Usually, products would contain a functional benefit at it’s core, with the other types of benefits to enhance it’s value.

A relationship benefit includes any product which boosts a relationship. Buying a card or flowers for a friend is such a product. While we could argue the card allows the ability to convey a message, and flowers give benefits in scent and aesthetics, we cannot ignore the main benefit of the product: building relationships. In this category, it is not the product’s functional benefit itself, but “the thought which counts”.

An emotional benefit includes a product influences emotions. For example, this could be a movie, books, or any other product which would influence emotions. A locket could evoke feelings of love and commitment to someone, and a funny figurine may promote happiness.

A social benefit is one which modifies your social standing. Owning an Apple product, for example, may allow you to gain the acceptance of the Apple Fan-Club. Similarly, a nice ring would improve your social image to those around you.

A novelty benefit is one which arises due to something being a new experience. While books and movies have this quality, a great example is when Tamagotchis came out. A Tamagotchi is a digital pet which surged in popularity and overtook the world in 1996. This fad item was new and trendy. While it did little but waste the user’s time, it was a very novel product and thus became a must-have. In this way, it provided a huge novelty benefit.

Rarity describes something which is difficult to find or obtain. This is a benefit derived from this scarcity directly which makes it valuable. Gold, for example, does not have many functional applications- but is valuable because of how scarce it is compared to other basic metals.

It is important to note that while considering the benefits, a product usually contains all seven benefits in varying degrees. While some products are designed for one benefit itself, improving value can come through improving the other benefits as well.

Vintage Car

Rosanne just purchased a luxury vintage car. In terms of financial benefits, a vintage car which is well taken care of could appreciate in value and thus be an investment vehicle. While Rosanne is not buying the car purely as an investment tool, the additional benefit is a great bonus which improves the worth of the car to her. The functional benefit of the car would be the ability to bring Rosanne from point A to point B quickly. As Rosanne frequently brings her friends and family to outings, the relationship benefit would be the time spent with loved ones and friends in the comfort the car provides. Rosanne feels proud and happy whenever she is near or even sees the car. In this way, she is also enjoying the emotional benefits. The car improves her self-confidence, and is frequently the topic of conversation between her and her friends. This adds on a social benefit. Rosanne bought the car primarily because it is an unusual model which is different from many of the regular more popular brands. This distinguishes her and provides her with a novelty benefit. Because not many models of this car was made, it also improves in value due to rarity benefits.

In the previous example, we can see that all seven of the benefits are exhibited in the luxury vintage car. This is not always the case. A packet of chips, for example, has little financial, rarity, or relationship benefits.

By understanding the benefits which customers are interested in, marketers could more easily educate customers to why they would be interested in a product as well as increase the value they bring to customers. For example, enabling payment through installments would increase financial benefits for customers where cash is tight. Having unusual or interesting packaging adds to the novelty benefit. Improving the product brand would increase social and emotional benefits. There are many more examples, but marketing allows for the improvement of value within a product in many ways. A marketer which understands benefits well would not only be able to attract more customers, but delight them as well.

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