Situations drive consumer decision making. Here's how.

There is a common assumption that before people buy or use products or services they stop and evaluate various features of the product or service as if they lived in some kind of context-free alternative universe. This popular model in consumer research is, in our view, quite wrong and doesn't quite encompass what truly motivates consumers to make a purchasing decision.
 
In contrast, we conduct our research from a sensemaking perspective. This tells us that what people really do is respond to the specific situations they find themselves in. There are two basic types:
 

1. Remembered Experiences

 
In situations where we don't know what to do, we draw guidance and inspiration from our own remembered experiences - we  look backwards in order to live forwards. Picture a teenager not knowing what career to choose. She will probably make her decision by looking back over her school life to date and take note of what she enjoyed and what she did well at.
 

2. Imagining the Future

 
In situations where we are confused about what to do, we imagine what the future will be like. Picture a man planning his next holiday, asking himself 'should i go to Thailand or Hawaii?  Both sound great and cost about the same.' To make sense of his choices, he will probably imagine himself in each location. We look forwards in order to choose now.
 
 
It's not just about looking backwards and forwards; it's about picturing ourselves in the past or in the future.

Tags: Behavioural Economics, Making sense, sense-making

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