Media   |   Research & Advisory

How Consumers Decide

Reem El Shafaki | May 18, 2011 | 1 Comment
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What every marketer wants to know is what makes consumers choose one brand over another. Marketers would love to get inside the minds of their target market to find out how they can influence their buying decisions.

Many of these principles are generic and equally apply to Muslim consumers as well.  Below, I summarize a couple of global marketing experts point of views.

In his book Habit: The 95% of Behavior Marketers Ignore, Neale Martin challenges common assumptions and asserts that most of our decisions, including buying decisions, are based on habit, not reason, and that customers are on auto pilot most of the time as our brains try to automate decisions to avoid overload. He strongly believes that marketers are wasting their money by appealing to people’s logic, and that instead we should focus on making the purchase of our product or service so habitual that customers don’t even think about it. Martin maintains that “An automatic repurchase habit might mean that a customer doesn’t even give your brand a thought”. Alarming, isn’t it? But according to Martin that’s exactly what we should strive to do – make our customers buy our products out of habit.

Initially it is hard to believe Martin’s theories, especially as he discredits many marketing concepts that have become the core of modern marketing. But the author gives many examples; for instance he describes how Microsoft has managed to become the market leader, to the extent of getting penalized for being a monopoly, while their products are mediocre. They have been so successful at making their product a habit, that any PC user knows how to use MS Office and would have to go through a steep learning curve before using an application that was radically different from Word, Excel or PowerPoint.

Another author, Jonah Lehrer, in his book How We Decide, says our buying decisions are for the most part based on emotion rather than a rational cost-benefit analysis. It is a subconscious tug of war between how much we want the product versus the perceived cost of the product. So in debating whether to offer your customers 30% off, two for the price of one, a $20 rebate, free shipping if you sell online etc.;  this does not boil down to a calculation of the actual money your customer will save but the perceived savings and value.

Lehrer also says that a low initial cost is much more attractive than lower costs in the long term; and gave an example of a study that shows people consistently chose a credit card with a slightly lower teaser rate for a few months, but with a significantly higher lifetime rate.

It would be interesting to try to apply the two authors’ theories to Muslim consumers and note if there are striking behavioral differences.

  • Do we tend to analyze our purchase decisions more, especially if we’re in a non-Muslim majority country, to make sure what we purchase is “halal”?
  • After the initial purchase, are our decisions more likely to become habitual because we’ve already made the analysis?
  • What should marketers do differently to appeal to Muslim consumers’ emotions?

It would be interesting to conduct in-depth research to answer those questions. In the meantime, what are your thoughts?

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Comments (1)

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  1. Imran says:


    Great website. It very informative towards the Muslim market. From what I’ve been reading online I found that Muslims in general do not necessarily expect non Muslim companies to go out of their way to cater to the Muslim audience. We buy pretty much what everyone else does. I do agree with your points above. We are not reactive buyers, what I mean is that we think much more prior to a purchase. We need really need it? How much do we need it? Is it acceptable to make such a purchase? Is this purchase a priority at this time? Even though the temptation to “impulse shop” is always there but as Muslims we go through a process of elimination before any large purchase it made.
    I believe there is still a number of us that consider interest as non acceptable therefore we ended up holding back on larger purchases.

    Back to my main point, it’s really a matter of acceptance. The gesture that Best Buy (putting Ramadan Mubarak on their flyers) was very well received by the Muslims even though it stirred up a lot of angry emotions among the non-Muslims. Regardless Best Buy continued with their campaign resulting in further strengthening the relationship with their buyers.

    Keep up the great work!

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