Right before the critical act of actually making a purchase, a consumer will justify to themselves why spending the money is worth it. Most businesses fail to analyze this critical moment in the buying journey.
The concept of justification is one that most marketers fail to delve into thoroughly. This is a mistake because the act of justification – for a paying customer – comes right before they actually spend money.
There is tension for every person right before they buy something. It’s a moment where they have to justify the value of what they’ll get compared to risking the cost. It’s like a mini, personalized benefit-cost ratio analysis.
However, for the individual consumer, this analysis isn’t numerical – or even rational. This justification, rather, is emotional.
Let’s outline the main emotional triggers people use to justify spending their hard earned cash.
Health, Safety, and Fear
One of the main justifications people use for making a purchase is that it will make them healthier, safer, and more secure.
You can also put this into a negative context. We justify our purchase because we fear disease, injury, and insecurity. Pain avoidance is a huge motivator.
The idea that a product will make us safer and improve our health is a powerful justification for spending money. People will spend what would otherwise seem like inordinate amounts if they think it will prevent health or security issues down the road.
For example, I recently spent over $300 on a seatpost for my mountain bike. This particular seatpost has the ability to be lowered with the press of a control lever so you can get the seat out of the way when riding over technical terrain:
The technical features are cool, and it’s an upgrade that allows me to ride more difficult trails. My friends with regular seatposts envy me on rides.
But those are not the reasons I spent my money.
Right before I broke out my credit card, I thought to myself that 300 bucks is nothing compared to the hospital bill I might pay if I crashed my bike riding over a rocky trail.
300 bucks is nothing to spend if it prevents a broken arm – or back.
A narrative of fear overtook me. I pictured myself in the hospital thinking that if only I’d bought that dropper seatpost I’d be still be riding my bike – instead of sitting in a wheelchair.
Getting to the end of a ride uninjured is such a powerful justification that I felt I had no choice but to buy this product.
At first, I checked out the features and considered the benefits they would offer to my riding. But that moment of justification – driven by fear for my safety – is why I actually bought it.
This classic advertisement gets people to justify buying based on fear:
Fear for your health (or that of a family member) is the most powerful justification there is. When it sets in, a buyer will feel they have no choice but to make the purchase.
When a person comes to the conclusion that a new purchase will increase their status, it’s a powerful justification.
For example, in the suburban neighborhoods of America, a rational person might wonder why large pickup trucks are so popular. After all, if you live in an urban area and primarily use your vehicle to commute, why do you need a truck more suited for life on a ranch?
This Chevy commercial is telling:
This commercial is all about status. The wimp in the sedan has none. Defeated and followed by insipid ballads, he’s virtually emasculated.
The guy leaving work is brimming with confidence. Women notice him, hard-rock anthems follow him around.
The ad couples high status and sexuality with owning a Chevy truck. Like the lion leading the pride, this guy has got it.
Status motivates a lot of human behavior. Much of what we define as success has to do with status. It’s natural to feel better about yourself when you think your life is exceptional – that you’re a cut above.
Status justification isn’t always competitive or sexual. We also increase status when we’re perceived as generous, funny, intelligent, or empathetic.
Status is a justification that – when it’s in play – will overwhelm rational judgment. A shopper might have a long list of reasons not to buy a product, but if they think it will increase their status, they’ll justify spending their money.
Another powerful buying justification is the feeling that you’re doing the right thing by making the purchase.
This is the humanistic justification, which plays on the morality of the buyer.
When we think what we’re buying works in conjunction with a social cause, it’s a powerful purchase justification.
For example, Tom’s gives, one for one, to people in need when you buy from them.
Imagine an online shopper who found a pair of shoes she really likes, but they’re expensive and she’s not sure they’ll fit right.
Then she considers that if she buys these shoes, she’ll also be buying a pair for a person in need somewhere else in the world.
That positive, humanistic feeling is the justification that moves her to make the purchase.
One of the most used (and perhaps abused) justifications in advertising is the idea that the product will give the buyer more sex appeal.
If a person is waffling on making a purchase, but finally decides that owning it will make them more attractive, that justification will overwhelm all other considerations.
It’s a cliche in advertising: sex sells. But the justification extends into status roles and self-perception as well.
For example, Spanx built a billion dollar company selling shapewear:
In comparison to most underwear, Spanx is really expensive. But the justification of looking better in that evening dress works for many shoppers.
Fun and Pleasure
A justification not to be overlooked is fun. We’ll often override justifications for not spending money for one reason: enjoyment.
The Disney family vacation, a new fishing pole, even (in part) the mountain bike seatpost I bought. If we say to ourselves “this will be fun” it’s another way of saying “it’s worth spending the money”.
When something is fun, you might even get customers to sacrifice convenience. For example, Burger King’s CMO felt one of the main reasons their “Whopper Detour” campaign was successful was that the idea of downloading an app at McDonald’s to get a Burger King product was fun.
The promise of fun is powerful justification for spending money. For many us, the reason we work to get money is so we can spend it on something we’ll enjoy. That’s the payoff.
The Deal You Can’t Pass Up
When all else fails, the ace in the hole for buyer justification is getting them to think the best financial decision they can make is to part with their money.
We’re all familiar with this purchase justification. We find a product of questionable value and realize the timing for buying it isn’t right.
But it’s on sale. It’s such a great deal. If you don’t buy it now, you’ll regret it later.
Offering shoppers a “deal they can’t pass up” isn’t always feasible, but “rock-bottom” prices are a way all of us – at times – justify spending.
The Moment of Truth
Purchase justification is a brief but intensely important moment in the buying cycle.
As we are about to spend our money, a voice in our head tells us how to justify this purchase – or how not to. We may think we’re rationalizing what we’re doing, but the truth is it’s more of a gut feeling.
This “moment of truth” is the precise moment when money is spent – and made.
As a marketer and salesperson, if you understand how your buyers will justify their purchase, it will inform your entire strategy. Campaigns like Michelin tires or this Kraft commercial are ads that target buyer justification:
There is a conflict going on in this commercial. The mom wants to feed her kid healthy food, but tires of the fight. Family bliss is the justification for resorting to Mac & Cheese. Kraft knows which purchase justification will win out for their audience.
Knowing how justification works in the purchase decision requires intimate customer knowledge. You must understand what really motivates your target audience, then use that knowledge to capture their attention and move them into buying mode.
It’s not an easy thing to get right, which is why so many businesses fail to integrate it into their advertising.
If you can, you’ll gain a serious competitive advantage. After all, the entire point of your marketing is to get people to take single action:
Buy. Your. Product.