If you understand your customer and what motivates them to buy, you are well on the way to making a successful sale.

Although buyers vary in shapes, sizes, moods, customs etc., they all buy for the same basic reason:  "Because it benefits them or their company to do so".


In retailing (at least), shoppers can be categorised into the following four groups:

- Economic Shoppers:  Most interested in prices, value, product quality & economic factors. Not so interested in treatment by staff, decor of the store, location etc.

- Personalising Shoppers:  Enjoy the interaction with sales staff, preferring to shop with sales staff they know & like.

- Ethical Shoppers: Avoid large chain stores or companies which tend towards monopolies or deal with products which are judged unethical. Don't shop at big supermarkets because "they are putting the small man out of business" Prefer to buy food from the biodynamic/organic shop because it hasn't been treated with chemicals. etc. 

- Apathetic Shoppers: Don't like shopping, go to the most convenient supplier because they must.


There are many different theories, tactics and tricks used by marketing professionals to gain the attention of the public.  “The public”, however, are not a unified whole - a bunch of people who just sit around waiting to be sold to. The public can be divided into as many different categories, age and interest groups as you care to do so.  You can narrow your target market down using categories such as:

- Geographic location

- Age bracket

- Sex interests

- Political persuasion

- How they spend their time etc.

Their technology adaption behaviour can be reasonably well divided into five main categories:

- Innovators

- Early Adaptors

- Early Majority

- Late Majority

- Laggards

These categories, devised by Everett M. Rogers in his work on the “Diffusion of Innovations”, are often presented in a bell curve illustration with the majority of people falling into the middle two categories – the early and late majority.  In terms of marketing, particularly if you are introducing a new product, you want to tap into the innovators and early adaptors – people who embrace new products and create “buzz”.  These people are “idea pollinators”; who naturally spread the word from one place to another. Before devising your marketing strategy and target market, however, you have to find out what people want.

Generally speaking, consumers don’t care about you. They’re not thinking ‘I wish someone would come into my life and convince me to part with my hard earned cash for whatever product it is they happen to be pushing today’.  If it is a product that people want, selling it should be easy.  If however, it is not, making them think they want it is going to be very hard.  So you have to make your product remarkable, literally something that people will want to talk about or want to use, whether or not they need it.


Just take a look at fashion! Everything goes in and out of fashion. No one needs a pair of Manolo Blahnik shoes. In fact, some people living in warm climates don’t need shoes at all but society tells them they do, in the same way that society and marketers influence people to want other unnecessary things. The only reason many people even know what Manolo Blahnik’s are, is because they may have watched episodes of “Sex in the City”, or heard the resulting conversations about them. So although they are completely unnecessary, these shoes are a remarkable product. They are remarkable in the sense that they are often remarked upon; either because of their craftsmanship or media popularity. They are items of desire not because they are comfortable, necessary or functional but because they are fashionable and thus they are a status symbol. They are a status symbol because they are expensive, which makes them scarce, and scarcity is one of the key “weapons of influence” used by marketers to sell products.

Robert Cialdini, author of the book ‘Psychology and Persuasion’ has spent his entire career researching the science of influence. He identifies six “weapons of influence”, or main principles which people use to influence others. These are listed below:


Reciprocity is a term often used in cultural anthropology to describe the practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit. In its simplest form it’s a matter of “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours”. This could take the form of businesses referring customers to each other, helping each other out, buying supplies from each other or offering discounts to people who offer them discounts. 

Commitment and Consistency

This principle works on the idea that people crave consistency and therefore, once they have made a commitment to something either verbally or in writing, they are more likely to go through with it.  So, if someone makes a commitment to purchase an item they are likely to go through with it, even if the price of that item goes up at the last minute.

Social Proof

‘Social proof’ speaks to our sheep-like tendencies to follow each other’s behaviour. If one person in the street looks up, we automatically follow their gaze to see what they are looking at. Likewise, although they may not know the theory of social proof, buskers always leave a few coins in the bottom of their guitar case because it encourages other people to give – just as others have already done. People are particularly likely to be influenced by the principle of ‘social proof’ if they are feeling uncertain and if the people they are imitating are similar to them, which is why television advertisers use people who look like the members of their target market to sell products. 


People tend to obey authority figures regardless of the task they are being asked to perform (just look at the Nazi’s).  Authority figures are thus often used to advertise products - such as a dentist advertising toothbrushes, athletes advertising muscle relaxant crèmes and so on. Liking: People are more likely to be persuaded by and purchase things from people they like. Many party plan businesses use this selling technique to great effect, marketing to groups of friends within their own homes. Social media also works this way.


If people believe a product or service is scarce, or available for a limited time only, they are more likely to purchase it. 

Cialdini’s principles are proven, effective marketing techniques but probably also responsible for a large proportion of the offensive advertising we are barraged by on a daily basis. Using the principles ethically and with taste should be the goal of a marketing professional.    


This well-known old marketing principle, still relevant today, states that you should be seen in three different places. The idea is that if potential customers see your name in three separate places, they are more likely to recognise your business. They are also more likely to remember you when they want your services.