7 Realities Marketers Don’t Understand About Buyers Today

By Katie Martell | 1.24.17

Marketing is motivation.


It’s a push.


We as marketers guide buyers towards a decision. We appeal to their logic, try to engage their sense of reason, play to their emotions, and address their needs.


That’s what we do. It’s why we’re here. Even in a time of great change and growth in data and technology and automation, motivation is still the core of what great marketing does. These changes have affected the way our buyers shop and consume—begging our marketing to be drastically different than ever before.


In some ways, we’re winning against the threat of falling behind. There have never been so many tools and innovation in our space. But in many ways, we’re losing:


  • Less than 20% of the largest B2B companies are highly effective at generating demand [1].

  • Ninety percent of startups fail to even get off the ground [2].

  • The vast majority of marketers (79%) can’t measure their impact on revenue—i.e., why they even exist—in their organizations [3].


Here’s the bottom line:


We need to understand what motivates today’s buyers.


To get to this nugget of truth, I recommend Kit Yarrow’s book, “Decoding the New Consumer Mind: How and Why We Shop and Buy.” It’s a fantastic resource in figuring out how to motivate the modern buyer.


I find Kit’s book to be enormously helpful in explaining the phenomenon that what has worked before won’t work today. Things are changing so quickly that marketers have less time to get ready. They need to be ready.


Here are seven realities marketers must contend with today:


1. Buyers operate with continuous partial attention.


People think differently than before. Technology use is literally rewiring our brains. Smartphones, or what Resource CEO Kelly Mooney calls “weapons of personal empowerment” have changed us.


Buyers today expect quick fixes to problems, they want what’s new; they are empowered and seek transparency. But they’re also more easily distracted and have less tolerance for ambiguity—and nearly everything else that requires patience.


Marketers and consumers alike are driven by an anxiety to keep track of information and an expectation that we be available around the clock. The result is continuous partial attention, a phrase attributed to Gary Small. Our brains are being trained for speed—scanning and processing mountains of information quickly—rather than focus, paying attention to detail, and patience.


Consider this when designing marketing collateral, writing email copy, or when helping your sales team create materials for conversations with prospects. Design your marketing strategy to an audience of online readers who skim, to busy and overworked professionals who don’t have time to waste, and to potential buyers whose inboxes are filled to the brim with distractions.


2. We have never been so isolated.


Human connection as a basic need is on par with food, water, and shelter. It forms the foundations for happiness and the source of meaning and purpose in life, and yet we’ve never been more alone.


Yarrow points out a paradox of modern society. “Although we’re genetically predisposed to connect, we can actually survive on our own. And that’s what we’re increasingly doing.”


This results in more isolation and a more “me-centric” society. Our lives are increasingly more superficial and disconnected as communication takes place via technology. This has led to a rise in our fundamental need to be seen, respected, and connected.


Marketers, bring your customers together in a peer community. Speak to them as human beings and take every opportunity to connect with them face to face, whether by holding informal meetups, starting a product advisory council, or by hosting a user or customer event.


3. Narcissism and emotion prevail.


Even though many people are optimists by nature, as buyers most approach the market with more emotionality. Our moods and emotions have a tremendous impact on how we perceive the world, including our perceptions of brands, products, and services. This affects how buyers process information and make decisions—emotions enter into the appraisal and trade-off functions of buying decisions.


Narcissism is an important factor in the current state of things, as well. It exists to some extent in all of us and is on the rise. Yarrow advises marketers to harness the allure of specialness, exclusivity, secrets, and social ranking systems.


In a world where everything feels available to everyone anytime, the old-fashioned thrill of finding something special, unique, and exclusive is more appealing than ever. A rare find, such as a private invitation or exclusive offering, will bond consumers to a brand.


4. What’s new is what’s valuable.


Understand that for many buyers “tried and true” is simply tired and old. Today, value is most often placed on what is new.


As John Digles says: “Consumers have a passionate sense of exploration, especially with technology. There’s a fertile appetite for ‘new.’ Just as consumers won’t eat, sleep, work, or play without it, they’re not shopping without it either.”


Digital technology is so integrated into consumers’ lives it’s like an additional body part. So, they views brands that incorporate technology and innovation into their offerings—and marketing—as smarter, cooler, and more consumer-centric. They feel more relevant to modern consumers.


5. Authenticity is the antidote to our online lives.


Fewer than three in 10 Americans say that corporate America’s reputation is positive. The perception here is that businesses have become the antithesis of humanity. Today’s consumers are defensive and distrustful, and today’s marketers are therefore working from a deficit of trust.


“The key to regaining the trust of wary consumers is to get real,” Yarrow asserts. “Humanized, authentic brands that act transparently and live up to their images are beloved.”


Deep down, buyers “want to be able to relax their guard and buy and love products without vigilance—and the brands that offer them that security have a competitive advantage,” she says. Yes, buyers are dazzled by “new” and eager to explore options, but they also want comfort, simplicity, and the pleasure of doing business with brands they know and trust.


“There’s another reason why authenticity and the real deal are so potent today,” Yarrow explains. “They’re the antidote to our online lives. As more and more of our time is spent in a ‘Photoshopped,’ intangible, and virtual online world, we increasingly crave what feels real and genuine.”


6. Buyers want to be admired, and served.


Make the consumer the star. Aspirational marketing is gone—to an extent. Today’s individualistic consumers are more responsive to marketers who appear to honor, admire, and serve them.


In her book, Yarrow says:


“The consumer wants to be the star—and in a very personal way. The secret to cool is to make your customers feel cool, and smart, for choosing your brand. The appreciated customer is one who’s invited to participate.”


7. Keep it simple.


Marketers need to take into account that consumers will spend less time exploring detailed information and will consider a wider variety of sources when searching for product solutions. They are looking for faster, simpler solutions to match the way they think.


With a world of options at consumers’ fingertips, so much to choose from, no constraints on when and where to purchase, today’s shopper needs a jolt of emotional intensity to pull the trigger on a purchase.


As Yarrow points out: “It takes more, faster, harder, better to break through our technology-juiced, hyper-stimulated brains. Everything has to be ramped up a bit to get attention and inspire actions.”


She recommends removing interference and noise such as product complexity, confusing processes, and waiting to make the shopping experience more intense, and therefore more effective.


It’s all about motivation


Marketers, avoid the trap of getting sidetracked by the latest technology and shiny objects. Do not buy technology to solve an underlying strategy problem. Ever. Remember what you’re here to do: motivate buyers to take action.


Educate yourself—continually—on what it takes to make that happen in this brave new world. The strategies for motivating today’s fickle, distracted, and self-absorbed buyers are likely very different than what you think.

About the Author

Katie Martell creates buzz and drives market demand as an on-demand marketing consultant, writer, and speaker based in Boston. She has been named a "marketing expert to follow," a top 10 marketing writer on LinkedIn, top 3 most influential B2B marketer on Twitter, and has been invited to speak at a variety of industry conferences. Katie has spent the past decade marketing to marketers at positions including CMO and Cofounder of martech startup Cintell and Director of Buzz at NetProspex (a D&B company). Connect with her on Twitter @KatieMartell or on LinkedIn.