Picture of a Ryobi product at Bunnings Warehouse

Why do we buy?

The search for who we are is influenced by what we buy and vice versa. Beliefs about ourselves, our aspirations, and our view of our peer group influence what we buy. Marketers use stories and emotions to connect their brand value to people’s aspirations to support their ability to be the best version of themselves.

Marty Drill

By Marty Drill, 17 January 20238 minute read

The waft of sausages and onions hits you as you get out of the car. An Australian tradition of a Saturday morning trip to Bunnings accompanied by a sausage consumed whether you are hungry or not. You justify the extra carbs as you are supporting your local charity. You're at your local Bunnings to get some tools for another Australian tradition, helping a mate. She needs some new holes dug for some posts to replace her fence that blew over in a recent storm. 

You get to the tool section and see an enormous range of tools and tool brands and you wonder, how do people choose between the different brands? 

This scene plays out across stores across the country, from hardware to clothes to cars to groceries. Buyers are spoilt for choice and it can be overwhelming. 

So how do we make our decision on which to choose?

Our identity/sense of self

The decision to choose one brand over another is influenced heavily by our ability to express ourselves through the product choices we make. Am I the kind of person who would purchase this brand? And what would my friends say if I purchased that specific brand? Would they pass judgement on me/it or are they more likely to think better of me for the way I am expressing myself? 

Figuring out who we are can be hard. We want to be able to express ourselves, to be seen, heard and known. Mostly we just want acceptance. Acceptance of our peers can create pressure to purchase the right brand. We are unlikely to purchase a brand that doesn’t fit with our view of ourselves. 

As we grow we are influenced by our parents, our friends, our environment/society and even by the things we buy. What we wear, the car we drive, where we live, and even where we go on holidays. It all contributes to our identity and our sense of self. The challenge is being ok with that sense of self in a world where marketing can point out the gaps in the armour of our identity.

Our aspirations

Aspiration (ambition) is often driven by the emotion of wanting to feel better about ourselves. We stretch ourselves in search of a better life, a better lifestyle and a greater sense of happiness and achievement. We get a feeling of progressing, that our life is moving closer to success. 

A shopping spree can often lift a person’s spirits as the items allow them to feel confident, beautiful or sexy. However, that validation comes from our peer group. Social media is so successful as it provides an outlet for us to show the best version of ourselves and continue to receive positive reinforcement about who we are. Our ego loves it! We feel great about ourselves. The obvious impact is that reliance on this validation can drive us to have more and more aspirations and a greater need for validation which has its own consequences. 

Aspiration is the reason that luxury brands can sell a handbag for $5000, while a similar looking one is available down the road for $250. 

Does our sense of our identity and aspiration choose which tool we buy?

You are at Bunnings and the tools are all lined up; Ryobi, Homelite and AEG. Each with different price tags. What is your aspiration at this moment? You might say, to get the right tool, yet all of them will probably do the job. All you really want is to be able to dig the hole for your friend, why should the brand matter? Because you will take the tool home with you and you need to be OK with it in your shed. 

The Homelite is the cheapest and you are considering purchasing it, as you are not sure how many post holes you are going to dig in your life. While it's a good price, you are worried that your mates will think (know) that you are not that much of a handyman and you fear their judgement. The AEG tool looks pretty serious and you recall that a few of your tradie mates use AEG. But you instantly feel like a fraud and put it down. 

Your dad used to buy Black n Decker and you think about the days in the garage with him trying to teach you how to fix things for yourself. However, you were far more into computers than home maintenance to pay enough attention. If the Black n Decker was available, you may have purchased it on nostalgia alone. 

We often look at product features for comparison, though the deciding factor is usually how it’s going to make us feel. What brand is likely to give me the best feeling? We look to the people in our life that we trust, to see what they have purchased. They can heavily influence our decision, as their buying decision is seen to be safe. 

You wonder what other home renovators use and you remember that your office mates use Ryobi and decide if it's good enough for them, it's good enough for me.  

While your main aspiration is to help your friend, you want to feel good about yourself and the product you buy. 

The emotion

We buy on emotions, not logic. We may use logic to justify the decision with reasons such as price or product features, but the motivation for the decision is always rooted in wanting to obtain or avoid an emotion. Acceptance of ourselves, acceptance of our peers or avoidance of buyer’s remorse or judgement from others about our buying decisions. The motivation for the decision is always rooted in wanting to obtain or avoid an emotion.  

A perceived lack or gap in one's self can also drive people to buy. People might buy products that can make them look more attractive, successful, or fashionable as a way to feel better about themselves.

What does the tribe think?

Social influences also play a big role in consumer behaviour. People often look to their peers and family members for guidance on what products and services to buy. Additionally, people are often influenced by the opinions of experts, such as a celebrity or a trusted influencer.

What will my friends and family think? Will buying this product help me? Seth Godin said it best when he asked “Do people like us do things like this?”

If you expanded that to ‘do people like us buy products like this?’, then you would have your answer on why people buy. We seek to find our tribe. Then we do things that the tribe would do and buy things that a member of that tribe would buy. The glamour associated with high-end or expensive products often provides status and prestige. 

However, if your peer group values being down to earth, then the prestige of buying expensive clothing could actually have the person feel out of place amongst their peers or worse, lose status in that environment. The values of the group can dictate what provides status and what doesn't. All this sounds like everyone is judging and assessing their friends all of the time. It's far more subtle than overtures about someone wearing the wrong item, instead, it's more about the person feeling like they fit in. The self-assessment of whether you conform to the ways of the tribe creates pressure.

It can be simpler, sometimes we just want to avoid buyer’s remorse and as such look to our peer group for guidance. And if the product doesn’t fulfil our needs, then misery needs company and we can complain to our friends about the product. 

Experiential value

We often think that the features of the product are what sells the product. It’s not. How we feel about how the product is going to make us feel, is what sells the product. 

The value comes from our experience of it. Going to an expensive restaurant is partly about the food, but mostly about how the experience makes you feel. You feel special. The people you are with feel special. It’s a celebration. It’s a symbol of success to ourselves, our party and everyone we tell about it over the coming days and weeks. 

Our relationship with a product and a brand is far more complex than features or price. 

How the experience makes you feel and then how you feel about yourself as a result of that experience.

The fence

You dig the post holes and help your friend erect a new fence. You feel good about yourself and what you have achieved. You put your post hole digger in the shed and think to yourself ‘I did it myself, Dad would be proud’. The experience of the product was where the value was created. And just like that, emotion is connected to the brand. 

The next time you are in Bunnings you buy another Ryobi product and justify on the way out (as you are buying yet another sausage) that you bought it because you already have a Ryobi battery and you are now in their ecosystem. The real aspiration all along was the feeling that you could do it yourself. 

What's behind why people buy?

  1. Identity/sense of self
    Expressing our identity is important for most people. Being seen, heard and known allows us to be who we want to be.
    "I want the world to know who I am and be accepted for who I am."
  2. Aspiration in line with identity
    Aspirations are driven by the identity that seeks acceptance. The aspiration reinforces the identity.
    "Would someone like me aspire to buy something like this?"
  3. Connection with the brand
    Brands tell stories to connect with people’s aspirations, to get them to feel something.
    "Our brand is for people who believe what we believe."
  4. Emotion created 
    Emotion creates connection which has people feel seen. People who feel something are more likely to believe that the brand represents them.
    "People who feel something, take action."
  5. Sense of belonging (part of a tribe)
    Having the brand creates acceptance/status amongst the peer group and the group knows more about who the person is, which reinforces the identity.
    "I belong, therefore I am."
  6. Experiential value 
    How the product (and buying experience) makes them feel is the actual value of the product
    "I get to be me."
Picture of the Ryobi hole digger in an outdoor area

Want to know more?

We have a whole team of experts who would love to talk to you.

Get in touch

Keep Reading

Want more? Here are some other blog posts you might be interested in.