Understand Buying Behavior
with Qualitative Marketing Research

Why Do People Buy?

Emotions drive buying behavior. Emotions drive wants or needs.

People buy products and services that satisfy personal emotions. Product features and functional benefits produce emotional benefits.

And people justify buying with rational statements about features and functional benefits.

The Feature-Benefit-Emotion Chain

A product or service consists of a features-benefits-emotions chain. The chain consists of four levels.

The levels are,

  1. Features
  2. Functional benefits
  3. Higher Order benefits
  4. Emotional benefits

All four levels are important in buying.

The feature is specific. It gets the job done. The buyer can talk about it and use it to rationalize buying. It is what you tell your spouse, boss, or friends. The advertising manager may be able to use specific features as a point of differentiation.

The functional benefit is tangible and useful. It is the outcome of the feature. It is easy to understand. It is the justification for the feature.

The higher benefit, which is general but real, describes what the functional benefit delivers.

The emotional benefit satisfies personal feelings or beliefs.

All four elements link together to drive wants.

The Primary Emotions

Now, you may be wondering if you need to be a trained psychologist to figure out buyers. No.

For the past 100 years, marketers and advertisers have studied buying emotions. Human emotions do not change much from generation to generation.

So, the first place to start is to ask what we know today about emotions.

What are some primary emotions?

Here are some examples of primary emotions:

  • Acceptance
  • Anger
  • Benevolence
  • Curiosity
  • Fear
  • Greed
  • Happiness
  • Sadness
  • Surprise

There are many secondary emotions, which bind to primary emotions. Think about related emotions to primary emotions.

Consumers and Business to Business

The feature-benefit-emotion chain applies to consumers and businesses-to-business buying.

Business-to-Business Example of Buying Behavior

One reason an IT manager buys IBM is job security. But, there are other emotions too. The prospect of promotion, admiration, and peer acceptance weigh in the buying decision.

But the IT manager will rarely tell you outright about his or her emotions and feelings.

Engineers believe they are rational. And they are. Engineers deal with precise facts.

When an IT manager justifies buying, he or she cites the “facts” as a reason for buying, and they are valid reasons. So, the facts, or features, are important.

The features deliver the functional benefits. The features must do the job and deliver functional benefits, which deliver emotional benefits. If features don’t produce functional benefits, emotions can become negative.

Consumer Example of Buying Behavior

What are the reasons for buying a Mercedes-Benz S600 Sedan?

The German- engineered 5.5L liter, 36-valve, V-12 engine with 612 lb-ft of torque at 1,800-3,500 rpm, and 510 horsepower at 5,000 rpm, and zero to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds. Automobile enthusiasts want the features and functional benefits. Such benefits are the stated rational for buying a $145,000 car. It is what the buyer explains to his friends.

But, deep down in the semi-conscious and subconscious mind, powerful emotions flame wants and needs too. The emotional motivators are prestige, status, and the need to outmatch others. It is about displaying wealth, power, and status. It is about overcoming insecurities too.


Use laddering to identify all four levels of the feature-benefit-emotion chain. Use the findings to create ads and positioning messages.

An integrated chain creates powerful ads and messages. Features, functional benefits, higher benefits, and emotional benefits work together to sell a product or service.

People buy products that satisfy emotions and rationalize buying with product features and functional benefits.

So how do you identify values and emotions in qualitative marketing research?

You use laddering and projective techniques. These are tools to dig out emotions. Read the article about laddering.


People will tell you about features. And they will discuss functional benefits when you ask them.

But, people rarely talk about inner feelings, emotions and beliefs, unless you know how to draw them out.

Yet, emotions drive buying decisions. They are the chords you strike to get attention, and sell products or services.

You have to dig for emotions. And you use laddering as a primary tool supported by projective techniques to identify buying behavior and emotions.

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