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Buying Decision Process Part 1 of 5: Problem/Need Recognition

January 26, 2015

This is the first post of a five part series where we’ll take the 5 steps in a buyers decision process and see how each step influences your marketing tactics. Although the concepts of this model has origins in John Dewey 1910 book How We Think, it was largely defined in EKP’S research within their EKP model published in 1968.

The five steps are:
1. Need recognition
2. Search
3. Evaluate alternatives
4. Buying
5. Post purchase evaluation

Step 1: Need/Problem recognition

Delicious pizza. Photo courtesy of Steven Depolo Hawaiian Pizza Gus's Orginal Stone Oven Eats November 30, 2012.

What’s that you say? Your hungry? Me too. You see an ad. Delicious pizza. Can you just taste it already? Is your mouth watering? Mine is! Seriously. This photo, courtesy of Steven Depolo

Hawaiian Pizza Gus’s Orginal Stone Oven Eats, is making me realize that I was hungry, and well, I want my hunger satisfied. The need/problem recognition is essentially the perception of difference between a person’s actual and ideal situation. When that difference gets large enough, that’s when they recognize the problem. A person can run out of their favorite frozen pizza and decide they need to go pick up more from the store. Or they may have achieved their adulthood goal of moving to Chicago, and know that they’re going to have a new favorite pizza there. As each person’s unique situation changes, so will their needs.

Which Channels Do I Use?

Well, that all depends on strategy and budget. You can use awareness and/or reinforcement advertising campaigns, word of mouth marketing via guerilla tactics, social media, or potentially viral content, online display ads, print ads, event promotion, conference/trade show displays, and pretty much any other marketing channels that best fits your budget and strategy. Don’t wildly shoot out some paid social media posts without fully outlining a strategy and listing out your channels, tactics, metrics, goals, and timelines. It might be worth considering only focusing your efforts on one primary channel and then use other channels to support the primary one. Make sure you’ve developed a value proposition for your customers. What is it exactly that you are offering your customers?

Defining Your Audience

There are a few different aspects of consumer behavior to look at here. Who is your audience? What do they care about? What are they talking about? Get more demographic and psychographic data by survey, interview, or from secondary data. Keep in mind that just because Joe Shmoe said that your audience is a certain way, does not make it true. You need to hire someone to do this, or do it yourself. You can segment by a myriad of elements including geographical area, gender, age, race, nationality, income levels, education level, interests, etc. Or you can take the approach of developing buyer personas as discussed in Joe Pulizzi’s book, Epic Content Marketing. Align your marketing strategy with what your audience’s needs are by using things like sensory marketing (appealing to sight, sound, smell, taste and touch) or really any of the aspects under Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

How Can I Uncover Needs?

Ask questions. Lots of questions. Interview your customers, listen to them, and do some community and social listening. This is how you will get to the needs of your customers. Readjust your buyer personas or segments as needed through this process. Refer to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
Maslow's_Hierarchy_of_Needs
Please don’t assume that just because your segment has low income levels that they will only be focused on the physiological level of needs. People at low income levels are seeking self-actualization as much as anyone else. But as the adage goes, timing is everything. Today, someone might be ensuring that they will have food, water, and a roof over their head. Tomorrow, they may be looking for screenwriting software or an electric guitar. As much as you can generalize, segment, and predict, people, at their very core, are unpredictable. The same goes for your upper income segments who one day may be looking for a new Mercedes and the next day looking for something quick and delicious to eat on their short lunch break. This goes for any demographic or psychographic elements. This does not however, mean that you don’t have to target segments or customize messages. If anything, it makes it more important. At this stage, you are helping the customer recognize their need or problem in their unique situation. Timing. Is. Everything.

A Little Bit of Fear

Playing on safety needs works particularly well for alarm and insurance companies. Help people recognize their need by scaring the heck out of them:

Find Your Match

dogkittenAll you need is love. So find one through any of the premiere online matching and dating sites like Match.com, eHarmony or OkCupid. Emotional needs such as belonging and love are very strong. This can be adapted in many different ways. When someone signs up to receive emails, sometimes I like using the term E-Club to evoke a sense of belonging, while of course providing other incentives, like up to date marketing insights or other free goodies.

Personal Needs and Personality


Cars, laptops, clothing, and other products are ways that consumers can express themselves. The kind of car someone drives can tell a lot about a person. Getting a hold of that fancy car will not only become an extension of your personality, but it will also bring you the prestige and perception of status that you may desire. This is apparent in just about any luxury car commercial.

Look at some of the other needs in Maslow’s model, and see how you can use these in your marketing approach. If you want to learn more and develop your marketing skills, check out Part 2 of this series.

Here is the Jim Carrey version of the Lincoln commercial from SNL, just for kicks:

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