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Marketing 360® Blog

A Reflection on Buying Modalities: How to Target Buyer Types

Understanding the four buying modalities gives you insight into the minds of consumers and what motivates them to buy.  Use these models to set time-frames for your campaigns and to create an affinity with your audience.

buying modalities

What Are Buying Modalities?

Buying modalities are tendencies we display as consumers.  They impact the types of products we prefer, how we make decisions, and the time we spend in the buying cycle.

There are four main buying modalities:

  1. Methodical:  Longer buying-cycle, researcher, likes substantiated facts.  Less influenced by emotion, motivated by quality.
  2. Humanistic:  Longer buying-cycle, motivated by stories that show a connection to others.  Empathetic, inspired by courage and adventure.
  3. Competitive:  Shorter buying-cycle, motivated by status and control.  Likes quality that reflects on them personally.  Researches and wants facts, but acts decisively.
  4. Spontaneous:   Shorter buying-cycle, emotional and impulsive.  Self-stimulated by creativity, art, and humor.  Likes the latest thing, trendy, stylish.  Focuses on the moment, most likely to experience buyer’s remorse.

While these terms may be new to you, when you reflect on advertisements you see, you’ll begin to recognize these patterns.  Most advertising targets one of these four modalities.

Here is a breakdown of each, with ideas on how to incorporate them into your advertising campaigns.

Methodical Buyers

Methodical advertising assumes people are going to research, compare, and do their best to pre-justify their purchase.

Methodical buyers take the most time in the buying cycle.  They compare features, services, and utility.  Their buying process makes an overt attempt to not be swayed emotionally.  These buyers have a strong aversion to buyer’s remorse – they want to feel like they made the right choice.

Methodical buyers like proof.  They don’t just want you say you are the best, you must prove it.

For example, Dragon speech recognition software offers a demo video that backs their claims by actually showing the software in action:

To target methodical buyers, do this:

  • Focus on the features/benefits relationship of your product.  Make sure it’s clear how benefits are derived by using your product.
  • Back up all claims of utility and superiority with facts, certifications, demos, and testimonials.
  • Plan for a longer buying cycle that uses information to educate buyers, such as through email marketing.
  • Pay attention to the fine print.  Methodical buyers are likely to read it.

Humanistic Buyers

Humanistic advertising uses voice and stories of people to develop an emotional resonance that goes beyond the product itself.  These ads tend to show a caring, optimistic view of life that gets associated with the product.

For example, Subaru’s tagline of Love, it’s what drives a Subaru is strongly humanistic.  Most of their commercials center on the relationships Subaru is a part of, such as when an older car gets passed down to a child who just got their license.

Their #meetanowner campaigns are all about making you feel a connection with the “type” of person who buys a Subaru:

humanistic advertising

Humanistic buyers tend towards longer buying cycles, and like to feel their purchase is “doing the right thing”.  They are motivated by the unspoken mantra “This is what people like us do”, and are often more motivated by that feeling than price or utility alone.

In this classic scene from Mad Men,  Don Draper realizes that targeting nostalgia is the way to sell the slide projector:

To target humanistic buyers, do this:

  1. Use a story involving people to create a connection that goes beyond the features of the product.
  2. Put a positive, optimistic spin on this story.
  3. Connect to a cause people believe in, such as green technology or helping disadvantaged children.
  4. Be inspirational, adventurous, funny, caring, nostalgic or sentimental.  Tie into the bigger picture of what it means to be human.
  5. Develop campaigns that involve real people and share this content across social media (social media marketing is a great channel for humanistic messaging).

Competitive Buyers

Competitive buyers like to get the best because they see their purchase as a reflection of themselves.  They are logical but decisive.  They usually won’t take as long as humanistic or methodical buyers to make a decision.

Competitive buyers are stimulated by ads that imply the solution is the best available.  They like direct comparisons backed by evidence that their choice is superior.  The idea of getting the best can overshadow concerns of utility, price, or practicality.

Competitive ads often directly compare themselves to a competitor.  You see this often in truck commercials, such as in the ongoing Chevy vs Ford battle:

competitive advertisement

Ads also tend to use comparative language and superlatives.  Voted the #1, Best in Class, and America’s Top Rated are phrases meant to connect to competitive buyers.

The superiority is often implied rather than direct.  For example, this Jaguar XJ ad is filled with language that implies exclusivity:

Technologically advanced and luxuriously appointed, the Jaguar XJ is the pinnacle of the Jaguar sports sedans. Select between the sport-infused XJ, redesigned with high performance in mind, or the XJL where quilted seats and an available rear seat entertainment system prove decadence can be extremely tasteful.

One of the main reasons people buy “tasteful decadence” and “indulgent amenities” is because most other people can’t.

To target competitive buyers, do this:

  • Use “best” superlatives in headlines, such as highest quality, premium, supreme, the ultimate, top-of-the-line, etc.
  • Convey a clear advantage that shows how your solution works better.
  • Back up claims with social proof and demos, but be sure material is concise.
  • Imply that going with you is a “smart decision” sure to pay off.

Because competitive buyers tend to be more ego driven, they can be susceptible to flattery.  Try phrases like:

  • For people with high standards
  • For people of distinction
  • You demand the best
  • You deserve nothing less
  • For the decerning few
  • You’re passionate about…
  • Your income sets you apart

Spontaneous Buyers

Spontaneous buyers are quick to make decisions and are the most emotionally driven of all buying modalities.  These buyers are the least likely to pre-rationalize a purchase decision and want to know why they should buy your product now.

Trends influence spontaneous buyers.  They like art, creativity, and fresh ideas.  They are impulsive, so ads for this modality must motivate immediate action.

Anytime you see offers associated with a “limited time”, the advertising is targeting spontaneous buyers.   Their decision making is more mercurial, and they’re motivated to buy products they see as a reflection of their lifestyle.  Cat shoes uses this pop-up to get spontaneous buyers into their sales funnel:

spontaneous buyer

Even spontaneous buyers might not act on the first visit to your website.  Use retargeting banners to entice them to come back and buy:

retargeting banner

To advertise to spontaneous buyers, do this:

  • Make your offer time sensitive, using promotions and percentage discount offers.
  • Appeal directly to the emotional satisfaction people will derive from their purchase.
  • Create a context in which your offer is trending, new, exclusive, and non-traditional.
  • Avoid providing too much detail or choice, which may deter this type of buyer.


Personality models like buying modalities or the popular Myers & Briggs Type Indicator are inherently limited.  We can’t easily categorize human behavior, which is affected by context, mood, and individual situation.

Depending on the situation, a buyer might tend towards any one of these modalities or even a combination of several.  When you buy a car, it’s likely you’ll be more methodical.  And each of us has seen a pair of shoes we couldn’t resist and bought them spur of the moment.

But that by no means disqualifies buying modalities.  Audience targeting is heuristic; even when dealing with unpredictable human behaviors we can make informed assumptions.

Models like buying modalities help set useful parameters to base your targeting and ad messaging on.  You’re targeting human tendencies, but you can align them with offers.  Some products or services are a better fit for a particular buyer type.  Use those assumptions as you create your marketing strategy and develop tactics.

It’s worth noting that because of digital media, almost everyone today is more methodical.  There is simply more access to information, so people research, compare, and delay.  This is one reason retargeting is now so important.

When you match your message to the buyer type, you’re more likely to create an affinity.  No matter what type of buyer modality you’re targeting, you have to make an emotional connection to motivate people to act, which is the key to getting more sales.