Why do people buy things?

Ashley Hoyland

Tea + Toast Marketing Studio

The psychology of buying and selling is an interesting one to dive into. If you understand what makes people tick, your marketing will improve because you know why people want to buy your product or service.

People buy things for 1 of 2 reasons – to make them feel good (pleasure) or to move away from pain

Let’s say you’re about to go to your best friend’s hen party. You’re meeting the other hens at the train station and you don’t want to arrive empty-handed so you pop into the M&S food shop on your way to the platform.

There’s a bottle of Prosecco for £7 or there’s a snazzy pink bottle for £20 and you think ‘sod it, Hannah’s only getting married once’ and grab the glam pink one. Not only will it taste better (it will won’t it?) you’ll look good in front of the other hens who you don’t really know.

You have a brilliant weekend and feel like you’ve made loads of new mates. The hen, your bestie, even kept the cork from your bottle because it was the first one you all opened on the train (it was such a pretty bottle after all). The only problem is you’ve woken up this morning with the hangover from hell.

In your haste to pack after work and meet the girls on time, you forgot paracetamol. On the way to the station you spot a corner shop and find some really overpriced paracetamol. You pay up because there’s no way you’re sitting on a train with a banging headache for 3 hours.

Can you spot where you’re buying for pleasure and buying for pain? You bought the expensive Prosecco for the pleasure of feeling glam and making your friend feel special. Then you bought some overpriced paracetamol to avoid the pain of a headache all the way home.

Here are some more examples:

  • A child’s car seat – pain
  • Chocolate buttons – pleasure
  • A facemask – pleasure of relaxing / pain of avoiding bad skin
  • A book about how to make £1 million in a day – pain
  • A weekend away – pleasure

You’ll see from the list that on rare occasions both pleasure and pain might be evoked by the same thing. If this happens pick which you think has the most powerful pull for your customer and run with it.

If your marketing copy (usually your headline to draw people in) can hint at pleasure or relieve pain you’re onto a winner. Here’s the title of my last blog article:

“5 Writing Tips Your Business Can’t Afford To Miss”

It plays into your fear (pain) that your business will miss out on a way to make money if you don’t read it.

Is it a bit naughty of me? Not at all. The advice in the article does actually help people write better copy (and hopefully sell more as a result). All I’ve done is write a headline that will encourage people to read it and not miss out.

When people use this technique and don’t deliver it’s a problem. That’s why those people who say ‘Make £1 million in 2 weeks’ wind me up so much. It’s pure clickbait where they’ve played on your fear and the content of the article is probably useless waffle.

Let’s move on…

You might have guessed already that people are complex creatures and won’t buy something solely based on pleasure or pain.

They buy based on emotion

If you want to get people interested in buying something from you, you need to make them feel something.

There are 6 primary emotions:

  1. Happiness – You’re going to love…
  2. Sadness – I know how it feels to not want to get out of bed in the morning
  3. Disgust – Imagine living in filth and not being able to change your baby’s nappy
  4. Anger – Forests are disappearing at an alarming rate
  5. Fear – Last chance! This offer will be gone at the end of the week
  6. Surprise – How to look 10 years younger without spending a penny!

One way of tapping into someone’s emotions is to write like you speak. The primal bit of our brain needs sentences with a clear meaning to be able to take in what we’re saying. It’s the reason we often have to read wordy, boring bits of text again and again – it doesn’t stick in our brain because it’s too complicated.

Once you’ve decided if the product or service you’re selling evokes pleasure or pain, you need to ask yourself what emotions you can draw on to spark their interest and – hopefully – get them to take action. Look at past testimonials or reviews and see what words people use to describe your offering, then use this in your marketing.

If you don’t have any reviews, ask people what they think about your product or service and use what they tell you. After that make sure you start asking for testimonials because…

People buy things other people have bought

The fancy term for this is social proof.

People are 93% more likely to buy something based on reviews. The opinions of others make a huge difference when we’re deciding to buy something or not. It plays to our innate need to follow the herd (you’d die as a cave person if you didn’t) and our need to buy from people and businesses we trust. And what’s more trustworthy than a current purchaser’s seal of approval?

Now you’ve seen how emotion influences sales, you’ll be pleased to know there’s still a place for cold hard facts.

People justify their purchases with logic. Make sure you talk about facts to seal the deal

A fact is usually the boring bit. Let’s take a look at a car:

• It gets really good miles to the gallon.
• It’s the safest car on the market and has the least number of collisions.
• It’s a hybrid so it’s good for the environment and you’ll save money on insurance.

If you’re struggling to identify a fact, imagine what people would tell their friends and family to justify buying a product or service.

For example, think about going to the hairdresser. Your emotional reason might be that you’re scared of going grey so you need your hair dyeing, but the logical reason is that you want a professional with years of experience to do it because you don’t want to ruin it by attempting it yourself.

To sum up, ask yourself

  1. Does it move the customer closer to pleasure or away from pain?
  2. Which emotion is my customer most likely to feel when using my product or service?
  3. Do I have any reviews to back up what I’m saying?
  4. What are the main facts (features) of my product or service? How would I justify it to my friends and family?

Next time you go to buy something try to identify the emotions it stirs up for you, and listen to the reason(s) you give for buying it. You’ll soon see what I’m talking about.

First published on


30th May 2022

Leif Kendall

Love this! It’s fascinating how frequently people buy based on emotional impulses and needs, and then seek out suitable facts to justify their decisions.

30th May 2022

Leif Kendall

Love this! It’s fascinating how frequently people buy based on emotional impulses and needs, and then seek out suitable facts to justify their decisions.

What do you think?

Your email will not be published. ProCopywriters members: log in before commenting so your comment links to your profile.

Become a member

Join ProCopywriters

Connect with peers, develop your skills and extend your reach on our blog.

Become a member
Learn online

Online workshops

Every month we get an expert, an author or a professional trainer to deliver a one-hour presentation on copywriting, marketing or digital media.

Browse events