In two studies conducted in 2023, we analyzed the emotional needs influencing over 2,000 consumers’ buying decisions. The study revealed that an impressive 86% of consumers’ buying choices were shaped by an average of ten emotional needs. These needs ranged from personal desires to bolster their self-worth to motivations to influence how others perceive them. When products met these emotional needs, consumers displayed higher brand loyalty and satisfaction. Notably, a distinct consumer group, termed “Emotional Fulfillment Seekers,” emerged, indicating a paradigm shift in consumer behavior. For brands, understanding and catering to these emotional drivers is pivotal for success in today’s market.
In the fast-paced world of consumer behavior, understanding the underlying motivations behind purchase decisions is crucial for businesses to succeed. We conducted two comprehensive studies in February and June 2023, aiming to unravel the emotional needs that consumers seek to fulfill when making purchases, and to gauge how well these needs are satisfied. With over 2,000 respondents participating in our online surveys, we gained valuable insights into the complex interplay between emotional needs and consumer behavior.
Unveiling the Emotional Landscape
To delve into the emotional needs driving consumer purchases, we asked respondents to reflect on a recent purchase made within the past month. We didn’t ask that it be a meaningful purchase and we didn’t require a spending threshold. People reported buying things as mundane as coffee or a candy bar or as significant as a vacation or a washer/dryer set.
We presented participants with a list of forty-four (44) distinct “emotional needs,” which we define as the desired emotional states or feelings individuals aim to achieve through the purchase of a product or service. These emotional needs are how people wish to perceive themselves or be perceived by others, and often contribute to enhancing self-esteem. For example, some people may seek to feel more confident, successful, or to be perceived as having good taste by others when they make a purchase. We then inquired about the significance of each of these emotional needs in their decision to purchase a specific product or service.
Remarkably, our findings showed that a significant 86% of participants rated at least one emotional need as highly important in their decision to make a purchase. Even more striking was the discovery that, on average, individuals aimed to satisfy an impressive ten emotional needs with each purchase. This finding held true irrespective of the price, category, or importance of the item being purchased. In other words, whether they were buying everyday items like food and beverages or making more substantial purchases like electronics or vacations, people were actively seeking to enhance their emotional well-being.
Distinguishing External and Internal Needs
Through our analysis, we classified emotional needs into two distinct categories: external and internal. External emotional needs pertain to how others perceive us, whereas internal emotional needs are related to our self-perception. Examples of external emotional needs are the desire to be perceived as intelligent or attractive.
In contrast, examples of internal emotional needs are the desire to reduce stress, feel more confident, feel more intelligent, etc. It was fascinating to learn that consumers mostly seek to satisfy internal emotional needs in their purchase decisions, but they also have some external emotional needs. They want others to see them in certain ways and they use buying to achieve those perceptions. However, most of the emotional needs that consumers have relate to ways they want to feel about themselves.
The Nexus of Satisfaction and Emotional Needs
Purchases varied in how well they met consumers’ emotional needs. However, when a product or service successfully met many emotional needs, the impact was profound. When consumers reported that most of their emotional needs were met, they had higher interest in purchasing that brand, elevated positive sentiment towards the brand, and stronger likelihood of recommending it. Astonishingly, individuals also reported an enhanced sense of self-worth when their emotional needs were met, showcasing the intricate relationship between consumer satisfaction and personal fulfillment.
See Figure 1 for an overview in which we classified the percentage of emotional needs met and the impact on likelihood to purchase, recommendation, brand sentiment, and feelings about self. The impact of meeting even a small percentage of consumer needs is impressive.
Unveiling “Emotional Buyers”
Within our research, we uncovered four distinct groups of consumers based on the number of emotional needs they are seeking to fulfill through their purchases. Those with the most emotional needs, we named “Emotional Fulfillment Seekers.” This segment is the most brand loyal, spends the most, and is more likely to be female, Millennial, and married with children. They consider themselves emotional and passionate people, and they place more meaning on their purchases, such as wanting to make themselves feel better and recognizing that what they buy reflects who they are. Their unique approach to the market signifies a paradigm shift in consumer behavior.
Our studies shed light on the profound influence of emotional needs on consumer purchasing decisions. With consumers actively seeking to address a multitude of emotional needs, businesses must understand the diverse range of motivations that drive their customers. Brands must understand what emotional needs their customers are trying to fulfill, and they need to ensure they address these drivers of purchasing behavior.
By aligning to meet these emotional needs, brands can foster higher customer satisfaction, brand loyalty, and positive word-of-mouth recommendations. The rise of emotional buyers further underscores the importance of catering to these profound consumer motivations in the dynamic landscape of the marketplace. In today’s competitive market, understanding this emotional layer of consumer motivation isn’t just a nice-to-have; it’s essential for any brand looking to achieve long-term success.
Beall Research is a research consultancy that specializes in understanding the underlying drivers of consumer behavior. They are one of the few female-led research firms in the industry and is known for their strategic focus, customized study design and analytic approaches to addressing their clients’ objectives, and their painstaking approach to providing the highest quality data that is used for making major business decisions.