Buyer Psychology First Principles

What people want (and why they buy)

Happy Saturday to every unicorn in the galaxy.

I was recently reviewing a product launch deck and was shocked by how boring it was.

It had plenty of facts, statistics, fancy diagrams and promising numbers…

Tables with metrics, prices, tiers, hypothetical outcomes.

But the one essential ingredient it lacked?


There wasn’t a single nod to the underlying reality that the product is not simply a way to generate numbers on a spreadsheet.


The product’s purpose is to lift up a segment of B2B users with hope, confidence and renewed engagement as they achieve their business goals more easily and cheaply than ever before.

Do you know how good it feels to stop banging your head against a wall?

That’s what it feels like to find a B2B product that restores your growth trajectory, delivers predictable results and gives you renewed confidence that you’re not a total loser.

It’s a cliché - but people don’t buy logically.

They make emotional decisions and then justify them with logic.

The same applies to B2B marketing decisions.

No one gives a shit if it does x, y or z 15% better.

They want the look on their spouse’s face when they bring home the insane bonus that has previously eluded them.

So - today’s growth strategy is Buyer Psychology First Principles.

Because people aren’t robots.

We’re emotional and often irrational creatures whose emotional needs must be put front and center when considering your marketing.

Growth stage: Any

Difficulty level: Medium

“The first and the most important thing you must learn is what people want to buy.

And it’s easy. You see, the way to deduce what people want to buy is to simply observe what they DO buy!

It’s as simple as that. But be careful. You want to know what people actually DO buy, not what they SAY they buy.”

-Gary Halbert, The Boron Letters

First Principles Thinking

First principles are a cheat code.

You don’t need to stay up to date with the latest industry gossip or technical bullshit.

You simply need to think deeply about what’s really going on and why people or systems behave the way they do.

If you missed the last two installments, here they are:

Today I’m going to outline first principles of buyer psychology that will deepen how you think about your target customer.

You’ll understand your customers better, empathize more and speak to their deeper desires.

Buyer Psychology First Principles

Buyer psychology describes the underlying motivations and cognitive processes that drive consumer behavior.

Buyer psychology explains:

  1. “What do people want?”

  2. “What factors influence how people make decisions?”

Most of what people “want” can be reduced to a motivation intrinsic to human nature.

Let’s take a look at the primary drives beneath what people want:

Survival and sustenance: Most of us want to keep living. The desire to survive and thrive is a strong, fundamental one.

Utility and problem solving: People want to fix problems. These problems can be physical, with physical solutions like tools. Or they can be more aspirational or psychological, where services can help us achieve our personal goals.

Social connection: (Most) people are social beings, and buying stuff can be a form of communicating an identity in an effort to connect, belong or be accepted.

Status and recognition: Humans have a drive for dominance and recognition within their social hierarchies. Buying certain brands or items can signify status and prestige.

Emotional well-being: Humans enjoy buying stuff to get a positive jolt of emotion, whether comfort, joy or some form of coping.

Self-expression: We all want to express our unique identities and feel special. Why else would I write a newsletter about unicorns?

Novelty and curiosity: Many of us (oddly not all) are compelled to explore, learn and seek out new experiences.

Security and protection: Keeping ourselves and our families safe is one of the strongest forces around. Americans own 393 million guns, after all.

Pleasure and enjoyment: Pornhub gets 10 BILLION monthly visits. WTF.

We all want to feel good and avoid pain, whether directly or obliquely through rituals etc. Avoiding pain is an interesting one - because sometimes it’s simply the pain of consciousness that we want to avoid. So we play video games and watch movies to lose ourselves and avoid encountering our active thoughts.

What People Want

Here’s a useful list of adjectives to keep nearby when doing your marketing research.

How can you help your customer feel:

  • safe

  • stable

  • satisfied

  • supported

  • sociable

  • seen

  • significant

  • sexual

  • strong

  • sovereign

  • successful

  • superior

  • special

  • smart

  • spirited

Putting Theory Into Practice

To the haters who might say that this is all hypothetical mumbo jumbo and most people are just selling new roofs, locksmith services and appliances…

Let’s walk through a real example for how these ideas can lead to actionable marketing insights.

Take the most mundane of all services: THE CAR OIL CHANGE.

I’m one of those idiots that doesn’t know anything about cars despite having driven one for 28 years.

If I were designing a customer experience for an oil change shop, I would consider the ways in which I could make my customer feel as many of the positive emotions listed above as possible.

In my advertising, I would illustrate how my service endows you with these emotions:

Safety: your cherished sports car is in expert hands

Satisfaction: we only use top-of-the-line oil for cars of your caliber

Support: we know what we’re doing so you don’t have to. And we’re happy to answer your questions.

Sociable: it feels good when you get a smile and courteous treatment from the mechanic, suggesting that maybe you’re still a man despite not knowing anything about your car.

Strong: you’re leaving the garage with a powerful machine in prime condition

Sovereign: we’re here to serve you

Successful: we know you’re busy, so we won’t make you wait

Superior: our office is quietly luxurious and well stocked with complimentary premium brands

Special: we remember your first name and show you exceptional courtesy

Smart: paying a good price for this incredible value will make you feel like you’re in on a secret

Spirited: problem solved, you’ll leave with confidence, assured that your vehicle is ready to support whatever life brings your way

Holy shit. I think I should start an oil change business.

As ridiculous as this sounds, I had my oil changed two days ago and I can relate to each of these appeals.

It’s incredible how many powerful emotions are occurring under the hood of our consciousness.

Use them to your advantage.

Should we continue our series on First Principles across more marketing topics?

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✨ That’s it for today!

I hope this helps you in your growth journey.


PS - if there’s a marketing topic you want to see a first principles guide on, just hit reply and let me know.

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