Filling a Want vs. a Need – The Power of Emotion-based Marketing

By | July 8, 2013

Did you ever stop to think why you just had to buy that smartphone, or that sporty new car, that beautiful suit, or that digital press? Long before you thought about why you needed it, you felt in your gut that you wanted it. Because no matter what you buy – be it for personal or professional reasons – your decision is triggered by some emotional need.

In fact, we invariably buy what we want, not what we need. We define our needs through rational, reflective judgment. But we define our wants almost without thinking or even putting it in words. The bottom line is that wants trump needs.

Surprisingly, the list of human emotions isn’t that long. It includes pride, greed, fear, ambition, guilt, a desire for beauty or health, the need to belong or be loved, among others.

Marketers are catching on to these emotions. So, to the list of skillsets they have traditionally brought to the profession – creativity, data crunching, market research – you can now add another: neuropsychology.

Understanding the impact of human emotions on purchase decisions has earned its own label: neuromarketing. Without diving deeply into the nitty-gritty of brain activity – the visceral or “lizard” brain, determines fight or flight reactions, the limbic brain where subconscious emotions dwell, and the neocortex, which forms rational and reflective thought are the “Big 3” in brain functionality.

When it comes to buying, however, our brain’s limbic system is where most of the action takes place. It’s where the emotional processing is taking place, something we might know better as having a gut feeling.  The limbic system actually works and reacts five times faster than the rational thoughts forming in the neocortex. We may think we use facts in our purchasing decisions, but our emotions have often already been “marketed” and the sale made.

Knowing this, however, doesn’t necessarily make marketing easier. The trick for marketers is to tap into customer emotions – without getting creepy, of course.  Whereas we have typically talked about “filling a need,” marketers would be wise to focus on “filling a want.”  To show some emotion is always a good thing. To know some emotion may be just as valuable.

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