Like any smart business owner, you realize the value of bringing your existing clients back for more. I had an interesting conversation with online marketing expert, Brian Basilico about just that. What drives a consumer to remain loyal to a brand? We agreed, quirky gimmicks and expensive advertising aside, customers don't remain loyal only because they get what they need from a brand. 

"It's not difficult to meet your customers' needs, but it goes much deeper than that," says Basilico. "If you don't know what they really want from your brand, they'll move on to the competition." His recent experience with a toilet paper purchase, yes, toilet paper, reinforces Basilico's point. 

His wife asked him to pick up some toilet paper, because, who doesn't need that?  For convenience, he stopped at the corner pharmacy to find about 10 brands on the shelf. Which to choose? He randomly selected a popular brand, leaving the store within about 60-seconds. Unfortunately, he learned that taking the easy route is not always the best way to go.

When Basilico arrived home his wife informed him that he'd purchased what she called the sandpaper brand, which met the need, but not the want. She wanted a specific brand, one that doesn't feel like sandpaper and comes in large rolls. It's not available at the pharmacy and, to her, it's worth going out of your way for. Soon, Basilico was back in the car headed to a superstore to satisfy the "want" in his wife's request. After a 30-minute journey through the store's rambling isles and check-out line, Basilico returned home, triumphant, with 64 MEGA Rolls of that special brand that his household not only needed but the one his wife wanted.

Needs are logical, wants are emotional and they drive the purchase. 

In business, we tend to sell to needs, but profits can be found by selling to wants. Needs are logical and wants emotional. Harvard Business School professor, Gerald Zaltman, says that 95% of our purchase decision-making takes place in the subconscious mind, which communicates to the brain via emotions. It's the mind, not the brain, that brands must sell to in order to create brand loyalty. 

Logically, we all need printer paper, but we want paper that won't jam the printer, which leads to unwanted stress and loss of time. We all need a physician, but emotionally we want someone who will listen to us and always do what's in our best interest--someone we can trust. Entrepreneurs need new clients, but we want those who have been prequalified and are ready to buy now.

Successful brands sell to their customers' wants. 

McDonald's is a great example. They frequently change their messaging to remain current with what resonates with their customers. McDonald's used to be the fun place for families, with playgrounds and characters for kids, but times have changed and customers want more. It's always been about convenience, but the major focus in today's economic client is on the Value Meal and the Dollar Menu. They even go head-to-head with premium coffee chains, like Starbucks, with its McCafe line of choices for around a dollar. It's fast and inexpensive, just what the customer wants.

"Understanding what customers want can be the difference between growth and decline," says Basilico. "Connecting with the customer via their wants is all in the messaging." People will pay a premium for that message. Car companies may try to sell you luxury and performance, but people often pay more for the prestige and perception of having more wealth. Apple product users pay a premium, not only because they believe it's a better product, but also to be part of the cool club. 

How to figure out what your customer wants.

Basilico suggests you view your business, products, and services from the customer's perspective. To do this you have to ask questions. Surveys, focus groups, and social media are all good tools, but face-to-face meetings and phone discussions with clients will give you a deeper perspective. When those meetings take place ask your client's permission to use a recording app and have the conversation transcribed later. Reading a transcript can give you a completely different perspective on the answers.

Study purchase history.

Examine both successful and failed sales transactions. Don't just take them at face value. You may believe that buying decisions are made strictly around price, delivery, or performance, but often there are underlying values that weigh in on the decision. Dig deeper to find some not-so-obvious reasons that could help you meet that emotional want in future customers.

Split test your theories.

Test your hypothesis by floating them in sales presentations, Facebook ads, and social media content," says Basilico. "Do A-B testing by offering a sample size of your product or service to gather data from which to analyze and process. This takes time, but it's well worth it."

According to Zaltman's research, consumer needs and desires are not entirely mysterious. Successful brands regularly draw on a rich assortment of insights garnered from research into the human perspective of the world around us. Keep researching and adjusting your marketing and offers with new ideas. Keep this system in place to stay current on what is emotionally affecting your customer purchase decisions. Simply lather, rinse, and repeat.

Published on: Oct 29, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.