Lucky me – our bedroom air conditioner died in the middle of the New York City July 2013 heat wave. It had been a great air conditioner, but when it started blowing warm air because the compressor started shutting down every three minutes, and it started making that scary high-pitched whining sound, we decided it was time to find something new.
So to the Web we went, confirming first which brands were manufacturing window air conditioners and if we were familiar with any of them. We looked at BTUs and tried to figure out how big our bedroom was so that we could buy the right size. We considered whether it would be possible to buy one or two big units to cool the whole apartment – and whether we even felt good about considering such behavior. We considered energy efficiency, of course, and whether we’d want a modlet or some other piece of technology that would let us control our AC from afar. We also had to read reviews and Consumer Reports ratings, not to mention think about cost and availability. And we had to make sure it would fit our windows!
In the end, we made what we think was a very smart decision. The size was right, the price was right, and most importantly, the unit was actually available. And that can be tricky in the middle of a heat wave.
Why should you care about my air conditioner purchase experience? Because there are times when all of us need to fast-track important, considered purchases. What might seem on the surface like an easy decision actually presents the consumer with a great deal to think about. And as marketers, we need to understand that these urgent purchases take on a different hue when being made by more affluent customers.
We do not like it when the things that we own break or fail. It means that we can no longer do something that we used to do – from watching TV or driving to work to cooling your home or sleeping comfortably. Sometimes replacing the damaged item is actually urgent. Other times, it only feels urgent. Either way, we want to replace what we no longer have – entertainment, transportation, comfort, you name it.
That urgency – real or perceived – can be daunting. How long will it take to do the legwork necessary to buy smart? Is the buying decision one that can be made alone, or is it shared? How quickly is the item needed? Can it be purchased in the store? Can it be shipped? The purchase gets more complicated when all of these variables are taken into consideration.
People generally want to spend their money wisely, regardless of how much they have. No one wants to throw good money after bad. So we know that neither the affluent consumer nor the non-affluent consumer is going to go out and buy The Most Expensive air conditioner/tv/blender/carpet just because it’s The Most Expensive. But everyone wants to get the best they can afford. It’s here, when we start to parse the meaning of the best that one can afford, that things differ.
Affluent consumers, when considering their purchases, will think about what is going to make their lives the easiest in the long term. Which product is going to have the longest lifetime value? Which will enable them to best enjoy the leisure that their income affords them? Many lower price-point products, however, are not built to last in the same way, so non-affluent consumers are looking to get the best they can now.
This is a critical insight, and one that is often overlooked in the effort to focus on data about what consumers have purchased and what they intend to purchase. We do not always know what motivates us to act, let alone what motivates us to consider.
So what to do about this as a marketer? Be creative about your research. See if you can spend time with your customers to understand how they prepare to shop when an immediate, yet considered, purchase is needed. Ethnographic approaches can work. However, don’t miss the opportunity to look at people who are outside of the center ring of your perfect customers if your budget permits. Understanding the differences in the decision-making process for your product will help you understand which features and benefits to highlight to different audiences.
It is often the big ticket items that are needed in a hurry. You need to already be a part of the consideration set, so that you can rise to the top when that moment arises. Recognize your customer’s desire and prove that your product will help them achieve it.
Sound easy? As easy as buying an air conditioner in the middle of a heat wave. Invest the time and money, think it through, and you’ll do well.