One of the most common drivers of any purchase decision is the relationship between what a person is willing to give up in exchange for what a person is going to receive. The idea is that if a person receives something of greater value than what they give up, there is positive value. If the opposite happens, there is negative value. However, buyers do not think in the absolutes of “positive versus negative value.”

For buyers, the purchase process is far for more nuanced. One of the factors that is often overlooked and not well understood from a marketing perspective is what the buyer is not willing to give up to purchase a product or service. This is important for marketers to know because building demand is the function of marketing, and understanding what trade-offs buyers make in that demand-building process is critical.

Determining what buyers will not bring to the table when buying a product or service can be boiled down to this – what are buyers willing to risk versus what they want to control. When buyers are motivated more by risk than they are by control, they tend to believe:

  • They are going to recover quickly if the purchase turns out to be negative
  • They believe that the purchase itself has little long-term impact on them
  • They have few perceived barriers to overcome to make the purchase
  • Their personal support network (friends, coworkers, family) agrees with and endorses the purchase

Buyers who express these attitudes, normative beliefs and controls are more likely to be willing to take risks. Conversely, buyers who are more motivated by keeping control, tend to believe:

  • The purchase has a high probability of become negative quickly
  • There is little trust built between the buyer and the seller
  • Either the product itself or the purchase process is highly complex
  • There are several perceived barriers to address before the purchase is complete.

There are rarely extremes for buyers.  It is not often that a buyer will be so cautious that they cannot complete a transaction or that they’re so risk tolerant that they will purchase everything in sight. Measuring control versus risk in a buying process follows more of a continuum, often influenced by age, income, or years of experience buying a given product.

What makes marketers most influential is when the control vs. risk model is applied to the practical applications of the purchase process:

  • Purchase cycles: Markets can identify how well the buying process is progressing by knowing that the longer the purchase cycle, the more comfortable control-preferring buyers will be and the less likely risk-taking buyers will want to complete the process.
  • Buyer-focus content: Buyers who are comfortable taking on risk require a minimal amount of information to make a decision. Marketers who know this can ensure that the content needed to keep a buyer engaged is focused, practical, and always driving to the purchase decision.
  • Funding options: Control-based buyers may like the idea of using different options for purchasing a product to diffuse the challenge of depleting one source of payment. Buyers embracing risk may also like different funding options, so they can complete the deal more quickly. For marketers, understanding channels that maximize knowledge about funding options can appeal to both segments.

Buying any product holds opportunities for those buyers who are more control-centric and those who are more risk-tolerant. Understanding the difference between the two groups, identifying the traits in buyers before the purchase cycle starts, and appealing to the buyers’ motivations will hold the greatest success in attracting and keeping buyers.

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