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Would you like to know how your customers think?

Career Tips
 Understanding how customers think and make purchasing decisions can help you anticipate and prepare for their actions (Photo: iStock)

Customer behaviour can be frustrating and confusing for many business owners.

For instance, a company may put together focus groups before developing and launching a new product into the market. Despite rave reviews from the focus groups, the product may end up being a big flop in the market.

When such things happen, you’re left wondering: “Why do customers say one thing and then do another?” and “What did we do wrong?”

If it’s any comfort, research shows that four out of every five new products or services fail within the first six months, or fall well below the expected profits.

When this happens, companies that weren’t well-prepared can begin a downward spiral due to lost revenues, poor employee morale, and low customer satisfaction.

Understanding how customers think and make purchasing decisions can help you anticipate and prepare for their actions.

Fortunately, there’s plenty of research on customer behaviour available online.

Let’s briefly explore how customers think and make purchase decisions and how you can use it to create better products and services.

Customers think in subconscious metaphors

According to Gerald Zaltman, a professor at Harvard Business School and co-author of Marketing Metaphoria, customers think in deep metaphors. “Deep metaphors are the fundamental frame or viewing lenses through which we use to orient ourselves to the world around us.

They work largely below awareness or in our unconscious minds and shape and reshape just about anything we think, feel, hear, say, and do,” he explained in an interview with the Harvard Business Review.

Business owners and managers often miss these metaphors as they focus on surface-level differences and outdated marketing fallacies.

According to Zaltman, 95 per cent of our purchase decision-making takes place in the subconscious mind. This means that there are complex reasons why customers choose to buy one product over another.

Many marketers make the mistake of overlying on their customers’ conscious and rational thinking minds. Researching the metaphors that your customers might connect to your product can help you develop more effective products and services.

For instance, a customer buying a sports car isn’t merely thinking about it as a means of transportation. They are likely to be using the sports car to make a statement about their personal identity – such as their youthfulness, aggressiveness, or sexiness.

 Today's customer does their own research before making a purchase (Photo: iStock)
Today’s customers conduct their own research

Various surveys have shown that over 80 per cent of today’s consumers research products online before making a purchasing decision.

Before they even reach out to your sales representative, they want to have details of the products they’re interested in.

They will go through your website, read reviews, and check out comments regarding your business or products on social media.

In some cases, they might even ask for reviews from their own social media following.

Today’s customer doesn’t want to waste time on a phone call with your customer support – they’d rather conduct their own research.

Maximise on this initial research by providing your customers with the information they’re looking for. If customers are looking for information about your products and services but they can’t find it online, they’ll feel frustrated and go to your competition.

Create different content targeting customers at different stages of the conversion funnel. In addition, it pays to optimise your website for search engines by using keywords and providing high-quality content.

Customers want social proof

If you were to ask, most people would tell you that they’d like to stand out. But science shows that humans are hardwired for connection – we want to feel that we fit in. Due to this, we often make decisions based on others’ influences and commonly accepted behaviour. This holds true when it comes to our purchasing decisions.

That means that customers are less likely to buy anything from you if you don’t have social proof. Social proof shows customers that you’re a trustworthy brand.

To build social proof for your business, ask your customers to leave reviews on your online platforms, get the relevant certifications and badges and display them on your website, and engage with niche influencers.

Reviews from customers are especially important. Research has found that 93 per cent of customers read online reviews before making a purchasing decision. In addition, 91 per cent of 18–34-year-olds trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.

As the organic reach for social media posts and consumer trust in advertising continues to decline, social proof is the best way to inspire and restore customers’ trust in your brand.

In their research, customers will be looking for social proof – make sure to provide it as much as possible.

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